PBR’s 🍑 Eating Tweet? I Blame the Algorithm.
What PBR’s now-deleted tweet tells us about the current state of social media.
“Not drinking this January? Try eating ass!” It was the tweet heard around the world on Monday. At the wee hour of 8:31 a.m., the corporate account for beer company Pabst Blue Ribbon sent out the soon-to-be viral, now deleted tweet. People responded in disappointment, delight, and confusion. I, unfortunately, was not phased. We’ve been watching the lead up to this tweet for a while now.
Social media today is ruled by algorithms that value shock, outrage, and generally intense reactions. These algorithms are always evolving and learning to keep you as engaged on their app as possible. In 2016, when Wendy’s adopted a more sassy persona on Twitter, we saw how users, and shortly thereafter the algorithm, immediately favored this content. At the time, a brand speaking with bite actually felt original. But then every brand (like, every single brand) copied or created their own version of the voice and tone Wendy’s created. When you see a brand break through on social media, especially in a time where it’s seemingly impossible to do so without an ad budget, it’s hard to not ask yourself (or have your boss demand of you), What’s our version of this? The result of this is Brand Twitter as we know it. (To be fair, Brand Twitter goes back further than 2016, and you can read the full history here.)
We are seeing versions of this happening today on apps beyond Twitter. We saw Ryanair personify (and sometimes sexualize???) an airplane using a specific filter, and then we saw every other airline pop up with eyes and a mouth. We saw a few brands start commenting on viral TikTok videos, and then we saw every brand in the comment section—all vying for the most reactions. It’s clear that one brand’s original idea is every other brand’s mandate. And when every brand is trying to outrun the next on the never ending loop that is post virality, what happens to the algorithm and the content it favors?
Every single day, we see brands pushing the boundaries of what they can get away with on social media. Just a few months ago Nutter Butter, America's #1 peanut butter cookie, tweeted “No WHAT November??” and received over 80K likes! As brands compete for virality, the algorithm slowly shifts to favor content that’s more and more out-there and reaction-inducing. How do you keep up? Create even more ridiculous content. And while many of us might roll our eyes at some of these tweets or memes, they “work”. They get the numbers the bosses want, they look impressive to clients, and they get way more impressions than any thoughtful brand storytelling post would ever get. I would know: I’ve managed Twitter for various non-snarky brands and I’ve found that it’s very hard for them to get engagement on that platform.
Now that we live in a world where Wendy’s 2016 sass feels like child's play and every brand is dunking on one another, are we really that surprised that we’ve landed at the PBR ass eating tweet? I wish I could say I was surprised! I hate it here! But we know the algorithm rewards shocking content whether it’s a brand tweet, news article, or video. And if you’re working for a mass-produced beer company that has a ton of competitors on the same app, this is the unfortunate state of what it takes to stand out, get the numbers your boss or client likely wants, and become the discourse of the day. PBR blamed the tweet on a “rogue employee” but I find that hard to believe. PBR’s recent tweets include “BACK ON OUR BLUESHIT” and “Peeber the blue butt reindeer.” They even retweeted “pabst blue ribbed condoms”. The tweet from Monday doesn’t feel too far off from their usual unhinged voice and tone; it just happened to enter mainstream media discourse and most likely scared the higher ups. Regardless, I can almost promise you there are a few brands out there today having a conversation that asks, What’s our version of the ass eating tweet?
To be clear, this is not an endorsement of Brand Twitter (or the ass eating tweet). It’s an attempt to understand how we even got to Brand Twitter (and the ass eating tweet) in the first place. I think it’s important to realize that there wasn’t just a decision for all brands to be sassy on Twitter; it was an understanding that to get engagement on Twitter in the first place you sort of have to be sassy. This same thinking applies really to any account on Twitter, whether it’s a brand or person: The more controversial the post, the better it will perform. I would love to get to a place where the algorithm weighed brand storytelling and meaningful content as equally as memes and shitposting, but that seems unlikely so long as data rules what we see. Until then, we’ll be talking about PBR’s ass eating tweet. Well, at least until Skittles posts something totally deranged tomorrow.