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Memes in a post-breakfast world: lessons from Specsavers’ response to Weetabix and beans

In a lot of ways, we all knew, deep down inside, that lockdown social media marketing would lead us to this moment

Last week, Twitter couldn’t stomach the idea of Weetabix and baked beans for breakfast. For brands, however, the viral moment signified an opportunity to showcase their personality and tone of voice. Today, Helen Gradwell, senior creative at Tangerine — the agency behind Specsavers’ response — explores how brands can ride meme culture successfully

Picture the scene.

It’s a Tuesday night, 9pm.

A social media creative is contemplating two pairs of designer Specsavers glasses on a white plate.

Slowly, but deliberately, they spoon on some baked beans. The beans slide down the lenses and leave a tomato-smeared snail trail.

“Perfect,” they say, iPhone 12 in hand. They start snapping pictures – some wide, some close. Flash on or flash off? Flash on. The beans glisten.

In a lot of ways, we all knew, deep down inside, that lockdown social media marketing would lead us to this moment. Brands liberally dousing their products with baked beans; an offering to the trend of the moment.

It all started with Weetabix, as many good days do. The brand posted a now infamous picture of some of its wheaty breakfast products, artfully arranged, topped with baked beans (the reason is not yet completely clear, but we look forward to finding out). Other brands, from Lidl to the NHS, waded in with their own crafty responses.

When you work in social media, your eye is always on the latest Twitter trends and conversations. So naturally, on the Specsavers and Tangerine social media team, we asked ourselves something we’re sure everyone questions at some point in their lives:

“Should we put beans on something?”

It seemed almost too silly. Surely we shouldn’t?

But then again… we have beans… we have glasses… and we have a half-decent camera.

By the time our ’beans au spectacles’ were put in the team chat, it seemed almost foolish not to tweet about beans on things. “Approved,“ came the immediate reply.

The acceleration of meme culture

But if we truly want to understand how every UK brand on social media found themselves mulling over the idea of beaning their own stock, we have to go further back.

Of course, the trend of irreverent social media marketing was with us long before March 2020. But the first lockdown (and the two subsequent lockdowns...) have really done something to the British online psyche.

At first, of course, everyone was scared. Uncertain. They needed reassurance from brands. Updates. Comfort.

But as the new normal became normal (and we all got really annoyed with the phrase ‘new normal‘), things changed.

On Twitter in particular, conversation polarised more than ever between serious, political and societal discourse and truly daft memes.

In the face of global turmoil, it seems we gravitate to the typically silly and self-deprecating humour that’s always run through British culture.

And these moments came thick and fast.

Everything was cake. Wembley was a lasagne. Chanel, the African Grey Parrot, was an icon. Coronavirus left the pub every night at 10pm sharp – and then everyone was obsessed with substantial meals/scotch eggs. A giant Rita Ora rampaged through the quiet streets of London.

Lots of people started talking to us about Barnard Castle at one point…

Before pandemic, Twitter and only a few of the savviest brands would have fun with a meme for 12-24 hours before the media, news outlets and then (some weeks later) Facebook got wind of it. But now, things reach boiling point in record time.

To put it into context, Jackie Weaver (the stoic meeting clerk from the Cheshire Association of Local Councils) only found viral fame last week. But, unlike days gone by,the video went viral on Wednesday evening (10 February) and Jackie was on BBC Breakfast the very next day, and later featured on every news bulletin until that evening.

A meme that would’ve taken up a good week to bubble up on the internet a few years ago quickly became overdone in less than 24 hours.

Same thing with the beans. In fact, by the time you’ve read this, we’ll already have moved onto some other trend.

‘Oh yeah, that bean thing‘ you’ll say to yourself, nostalgic for a trend that Twitter was obsessed with only a couple of days ago.

The reason for this acceleration of meme culture is really simple. Consumers are bored. Very, very bored. The internet is all they have, apart from walks. They’re inside, looking at their phones, with no wandering to the pub, visits from their mum or spontaneous trips “into town” to pull them away.

They’re hungry for entertainment, so when something happens (especially something as ridiculously British as beans on some Weetabix) they react instantly. All the hot takes are snapped up within the hour. It’s over within a single working day.

So… how do brands fit into this fast-moving (and often downright baffling) world?

Know your strategy

Firstly, marketers need need to know what their brand stands for on Twitter – and this’ll likely be a bit different than other channels. No small task.

Specsavers is every marketers’ dream, as that quintessentially sharp and self-aware humour is baked into the tone of voice thanks to the iconic ‘Should’ve Gone to Specsavers’ campaigns. And social media is the natural place for this to come to life.

When we look for opportunities, the formula we follow is: national conversation + personality + brand message = relevance.

National conversation could be a trending topic, or it could be Twitter’s ‘main character‘ that day (think beans-on-Weetabix, Jackie Weaver or that Zoom man who is definitely not a cat).

For Specsavers, ‘personality‘ is our warm, knowledgeable and down to earth tone of voice that runs through everything we do. In 2020, as the nation was coming out of lockdown, we launched our ‘Something to Smile About‘ campaign and as part of this, on Twitter, our mission is to make the nation chuckle using by seeking out 'Should’ve Gone to Specsavers'-worthy moments.

It’s important to note that a brand message isn’t the same as a sales message. It’s essentially what creates the link between the trending topic and the brand. If there’s no link, the audience doesn’t understand why the brand is getting involved or why it’s funny. For us, the link is sight and hearing, but this translates to almost endless situations – seeing or hearing something in our own unique way.

Embrace trends quickly and often

Trends are more transient than ever, so dithering by even a few hours can mean completely missing the boat. Marketers must make sure they have a good view of what the trend of that day, hour or moment is, and that there’s somebody on-hand to react quickly.

The key here is not to overthink it. Consider your brand’s angle and strategy, then combine that with what people would laugh at if they saw it on your feed.

Iron out the approvals process

A lot of people have told us they admire the speed with which we doused some glasses with beans and got it out into the world – to the extent that we’ve been asked if it was pre-agreed.

It wasn’t. It was just a funny idea we had, inspired by the ridiculousness of the Weetabix post. It was shot, put into the approvals quick-fire chat and approved within 15 minutes.

The key to that is trust, which of course has to be built up over time, so everyone is always working to do the best (and funniest) thing for the brand on social media.

And if you miss the mark this time, don’t worry. We’re sure we’ll all be slathering another breakfast food on our products soon enough.