How brands like Parachute and Sweetgreen are embracing chaosLaura Leiva
It’s been anything but business as usual for brands and their marketing teams.
Instead of traditional campaigns, brands are embracing general upheaval, changes in the workforce, managing supply chain issues, and are going toe-to-toe with brand competitors.
From Wendy’s to Taco Bell, McDonald’s to DiGiorno, there’s been no shortage of snarky tweets and hot takes passed between themselves and countless other brands wanting to get in on the action. The trend of roasting brands (and customers) isn’t new.
But it seems we’re headed into new territory: chaotic or unhinged content from creators and brands.
Now, lest anyone get confused about what chaos or unhinged means with respect to marketing, let’s consult with the authority on all things trendy or new: Urban Dictionary.
According to this crowdsourced site (which touches on trending slang or buzzwords, often from social media platforms) unhinged is defined as ‘crazy cool…a little crazy, but entirely awesome at the same time.” On the other hand, chaos is referred to as the opposite of order or something completely unexpected from the norm.
So what does this mean for brands and how they’re approaching a marketing strategy? Or, better yet, how is it resonating with consumers?
Let’s take a look.
The Chaotic Marketing Trend
We’ve heard it over the last few years: polished content is boring.
Curated feeds and overly-produced images that looked like everyone else’s content – the ‘IG aesthetic’ served as the gold standard for growing a healthy following on the platform.
Around 2019, brands and creators started to become uninterested in creating the same type of content.
Aside from the bland uniformity across most profiles, there were a few reasons for the shift from heavily curated grids to more unique and spontaneous images.
Micro-Influencers started to gain influence over mega influencers
In the early days of Instagram, it made sense for brands to connect with creators with a huge following. After all, getting content and products out in front of a large audience is a goal for many a marketing team.
Over time, having a large following didn’t translate to high engagement or noteworthy campaigns. Instead, brands started to see much more value in partnering with creators with nano or micro followings.
Though these creators had a smaller audience, it was a much more authentic relationship between creators and followers, leading to increased levels of trust and engagement.
Authentic Content > Curated Content
Once Gen Z started becoming more active on social media – Instagram, in particular – the style divide between them and millennials became undeniable. Gen Z preferred much more organic content over the millennial-fave flat lays and heavily curated photoshoots.
Instead of spending hours editing and polishing the perfect photo to upload to their IG grid, Gen Z was much more likely to snap a shot directly from the app and post it as-is.
This change in aesthetic had a powerful effect on a number of aspects.
From brands creating IG-worthy backdrops and pop-up stores designed to attract creators to photo presets and avocado toast, Gen Z decided the curated look was boring (and rightfully so!).
‘Claire’ a 15-year-old in a 2019 interview with The Atlantic shared this: “Avocado toast and posts on the beach. It’s so generic and played out at this point. You can photoshop any girl into that background and it will be the same post. It’s not cool anymore to be manufactured.”
Examples of Unhinged Marketing
Take a look at social media now and you’re more likely to find creators and brands adopting the unfiltered approach to content.
Creators such as Emma Chamberlin and Reese Blutstein are just two examples of creators taking the ‘messier’ approach to content.
Instead of photo presets that transformed every uploaded image into the perfect orange tone, creators are increasingly looking for apps or filters that give images a grainy or old-school vibe. Images that look or feel staged are the ultimate no for most Gen Z creators (it’s also important to note millennials have picked up on this trend).
Take one glance at Kim Kardashian’s Instagram feed and you’ll see the gradual turn away from highly curated images to (seemingly) more spontaneous and unfiltered images, in an effort to remain on-trend with the platform’s trends.
Because of this shift, it’s no wonder brands are taking a similar approach when creating branded content.
Within just a few years, social media creation teams have had to re-evaluate what works (and what doesn’t) with their audience. Brands stuck doing the same thing they’ve always done are finding themselves increasingly left behind, while brands stepping outside the proverbial box are getting noticed.
Grassroots marketing has gained steam over the standard playbook. Siding with cultural issues and global activism over posting a trending or obligatory image without action to back it up is becoming increasingly important for consumers, and the brands they support.
At the end of the day, people are tired of hearing and seeing the same thing. Enter the ‘unhinged’ marketing trend.
Imagine scrolling through Instagram and the popular salad brand Sweetgreen has a sponsored image of a man, eating a salad as it spills over the glass top of a copy machine. At first glance, there’s definitely a WTF moment. Eventually, the conversation spilled over onto Twitter by way of Magdalena Kala.
Michael Miraflor, the chief brand officer at Hannah Grey, had an insightful take:
Interesting and highlighting the contrast is one way to look at it. Yuri Sagalov, on the other hand, had a different opinion regarding the exact same image:
Does this image make sense? Not really. Would someone be eating a salad on a copy machine, never mind making a huge mess? I mean, it’s possible. Did it attract attention and spread around social media to get people talking? That it did.
Sweetgreen isn’t the first and only brand to do something quirky and chaotic like this.
Only a few days before the discourse regarding a salad on the copy machine, Parachute’s Spring 2022 catalog came out and created some truly visceral reactions.
A brand for bedding and bath essentials, Parachute is all about the modern aesthetic: Clean, crisp, and comfortable. So when the brand released the latest product catalog with a woman repotting plants in her bedroom with ::dirt:: all over the carpet, the outrage was palpable.
Even I felt triggered.
Taylor Lorenz, technology journalist with the Washington Post, asked what we were all thinking:
With 168.9K likes and nearly 10K retweets, this cover got a lot of people talking. Enough that the brand followed up with a few tongue-in-cheek posts referencing the controversial cover by way of email and subsequent posts on Twitter.
In case these two instances weren’t enough there’s also the recent example of jewelry brand Mejuri adding delicate gold rings to a bowl of Lucky Charms.
Alex McPeak, a content strategist at Klaviyo, shared images of adorned cereal, in addition to an orange peel standing in as an earring display. Better yet, head over to the brand’s Instagram profile to see how they combined ladyfingers (of Tiramisu) and jewelry to create content.
In the case of these three brands, the content doesn’t make sense in a straightforward way. But it seems like that’s the whole point.
Finding Balance and Taking Risk
At the end of the day, creators and brands want to have content that grabs attention.
Ecommerce brands need to go beyond the traditional boundaries of marketing to get noticed, while creators are always looking for new ways to stand out.
However, there’s a fine line between embracing an unhinged marketing approach and getting the engagement or sales needed to keep a brand or creator afloat.
Sarah Drumm, an editor at Thingtesting, shares this in the piece titled Why Brands are Getting Weird on Social Media:
“Such strategies are high risk but can be high reward. Get it right, and consumers will think of the brand as a rare example of honesty, fun, and authenticity at a time [where] trust in brands on social media is dwindling. If it doesn’t land right, however, brands risk coming across as strange, unrelatable, or even offensive.”