The Wendy’s Twitter account has strong opinions. Its favorite original pokémon are Gengar, Charizard, and Articuno. When it plays Super Smash Bros, it mains Jigglypuff and Samus. If it had to choose between The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, well, it picks Ocarina. And it’s vaguely familiar with that anti-semitic hate symbol Pepe the Frog, though it appears not familiar enough to know it’s a mistake to tweet a photo of Pepe wearing a Wendy’s wig.
The editorial voice of the fast-food burger joint can be described as that of a stoned college student, a greasy-haired teenager surviving on fast food, memes, and the pride of being the “original poster” on video game forums. Which is to say, for a certain type of internet denizen, the Wendy’s Twitter account is relatable and quite cool.
@Wendys knows when to drop a Spongebob GIF, and how to clap back at McDonalds lovers. It tweets in rapid-fire (nearly a tweet a minute in the hour that this story was published) with an authenticity that conceals its core mission: to promote hamburgers and chocolate shakes.
Snarky, but not too mean; young, but not desperate: @wendy’s spunky attitude has been a boon in the last week, attracting national news coverage and earning thousands of likes and retweets. USA Today chronicled how Wendy’s humiliated a troll so throughly, the user had to deactivate their Twitter handle. As USA Today wrote: “And the folks at Wendy's didn't even have to add “delete your account.””
The fast-food-of-newspapers is referring to a memetic phrase young people, in on internet speak, use to ironically jab at famous people on Twitter. It was most notoriously deployed by Hillary Clinton’s campaign in reply to now President-elect Donald Trump.
Obama just endorsed Crooked Hillary. He wants four more years of Obama—but nobody else does!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 9, 2016
“Mrs. Clinton’s missive,” wrote The New York Times, “most likely written and sent by her campaign staff, quickly became one of the most widely shared tweets of the 2016 campaign. It was precisely the kind of tweet that political junkies, and anyone else checking Twitter for a midday distraction, thirsts for in the middle of the afternoon when they’d prefer to think about something other than work.”
Both Clinton’s campaign and Wendy’s Twitter account play into the performative nature of internet culture in 2016. There’s nothing original to @wendy’s Twitter bombardment. No new jokes, no creative contribution to culture. Instead it participates in the dizzying game of call and response that has consumed social media, brands impressing following by knowing the secret phrases of the youth. @wendy’s voice specifically targets the approval of a niche group of internet folks that constantly vet the “realness” of anything and everything on its timelines.
@wendys knows how forum trolls like to call GameStop and ask for Battletoads, a game that isn’t out. Très real. It’s fitting that a fast-food vendor should find success with memes, a nutritiously questionable, snackable art form that’s irresistible to young people still discovering their critical taste buds.
Of course, playing with memes is a risky game. The meaning and function of ephemera change fast. In a moment, a meme can become outdated, and its application, a poker tell of a brand’s unhipness. Or worse, as we saw in 2016, a one playful cartoon can become a symbol of white supremacy.
Yes, Wendy’s tweeted the anti-semitic hate symbol Pepe the Frog dressed as the restaurant’s mascot. And so it’s time for the social media squad to find a new young voice, one that’s hip to the culture of the moment, unafraid to shill fatty foods, and careful not to imply an endorsement of hate speech.
@wendy’s has since deleted the Tweet and responded to followers with an explanation: “The person who tweeted it did not know the meems [sic] new meaning, and promptly deleted it.”
Or as the internet would say: “Sorry. Im Sorry. Im trying to remove it”