We’ve all heard about how social media is revolutionizing the world we live in. It’s impact on organizing and recording protests and social movements, including Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street, has been huge. But twitter has also had a major impact in another area: advertising campaigns. Unlike a television, where viewers must remain passive while they watch and take in whatever information and images are presented to them, twitter is active. It allows users to respond, to talk back, to give their opinion on what’s presented to them.
Because twitter has become such a huge phenomenon, a lot of companies have turned to it as a medium for advertising. However, these ad campaigns haven’t always gone as planned, precisely because people are allowed to voice their opinion openly, on an equal footing with businesses. McDonald’s and Wendy’s both launched ad campaigns through twitter with the hashtags #McDStories and #HeresTheBeef. The companies were hoping twitter would be flooded with tweets about how much folks love eating their burgers and fries, but what should come as no surprise is that they got the exact opposite. They got stories about people finding gross things in their food, throwing up after eating there, the real ingredients that are used by these fast food chains, and on and on. McDonald’s and Wendy’s probably realized pretty quickly that if you let people respond, they may not say what you want to hear.
Related to this, MissRepresentation, a documentary and campaign dedicated to challenging media images surrounding women, beauty, and sexuality, launched a twitter campaign during the Super Bowl to respond to advertisements that aired during the game. The hashtag #NotBuyingIt allowed people to respond to these ads, and not just in their living rooms with friends, but in an open and online forum that a lot of people pay attention to. And as you can imagine, there were plenty of ads during the game that featured scantily clad and overly-sexualized women. So people, both women and men, aired their grievances when they saw young, skinny, sexualized women used to sell cars and everything else under the sun.
What I like about these stories is that twitter has given people the ability to talk back, to have a voice against the barrage of advertisements that are pushed on us every day. And I think it shows that many of us don’t buy into these media images and stories that are always telling us to buy more. These twitter trends may not be enough to persuade fast food chains to sell better food or to stop companies from using young, half-dressed women in their commercials, but I think they’re worth noting because twitter is not the end of the line. Technology, social media, and how people all over the the world connect with each other will continue to grow and change. And from the look of things, it’s going to be increasingly interactive and participatory. And this allows all of us, voiceless as we may feel at times, to speak up and be heard.