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From Harlem Shake to Grimace Shake: Brand Moments are Culture

PLUS: Laplace’s rule but make it reviews
June 30, 2023

Welcome to Friday, futurists. 

This week we launched our annual trends report, VISIONS: Volume IV. The central themes in the report are at the center of a commerce-centric TikTok trend that encapsulates the intersection of culture and commerce.

The Grimace Shake is part of a $14+ meal (depending on the market) at participating McDonald’s franchises, commemorating the 52nd birthday of the anthropomorphic fungal chicken nugget.

“People want to take part in moments — to raise their hand to participate,” says Matt Klein, a contributor to this year’s VISIONS. “The evolution and aesthetics of media formats and participation in the culture mean that customers seize upon brand moments to create content.”

And seize upon the brand they have.

In the trend, a hapless individual sips a Grimace Shake, and a jump cut cuts to a gruesome crime scene, where the consumer is the victim of a violent death. TikTok creator Alyssa Granno was at the forefront of the trend. Her entry in the genre features her descent into mania as she consumes three shakes (approximately $51 in meals).

There are layers at work here.

To understand the TikTok trend requires transmedia literacy: found footage, A24 horror, true crime, and Arrested Development.

  • Many works contain the theme song Reborn from the Hereditary soundtrack. Hereditary (2018) is an A24 production directed by Ari Aster.
  • The callback to the Harlem Shake jumpcut is part of an evolving style that is easy to execute. Social video platforms provide the ability to pause and resume in their camera app. This makes the meme accessible, and universal.
  • A recurring gag in the trend is the cameraperson appearing with purple paint covering their face or hands, calling back to Tobias Funke “blueing” himself in the hit series Arrested Development. 

The Takeaway: Brands used to seize upon moments to participate in culture. Today, culture seizes upon brands to create moments that shape how we perceive a brand.

This is The Multiplayer Brand at work — consumers are faceting the voice and marketing of a brand through the lens of their experience. To engage in the Grimace trend is to engage in commerce; and though it fattens McDonald’s wallet, their brand perception is now in the hands of the wisdom of the crowd.

Read more about The Multiplayer Brand in this year’s VISIONS: Volume IV trends report by Future Commerce. Or pre-order our new 100-page zine on the subject, entitled The Multiplayer Brand: The future of commerce, participatory economies, and the age of critique. 

— Phillip


Art x Commerce. Art and commerce collide in Teenage Engineering’s new collaboration with sculpturist Alexander Weesley. The showing at fotografiska features a limited-edition line of Teenage Engineering products in marble, presented as sculpture, as designed by Weesley. 

FTC Crackdown. The Federal Trade Commission have updated the endorsement and disclosure guidelines for brands and creators. Among a number of other changes, the expansive update includes requirements for #ad disclosures to be featured as an overlay in video — not just in descriptions or captions. Consumer lawyer Rob Freund has a breakdown of the new requirements on Twitter. Listen to our interview with Freund on more guidelines and gotchas on episode 304 of the podcast.

More Sights & Sounds. Oura (the fitness and sleep-tracking company) now has an integration with Slack, which seems like a great way to creep on your coworkers.

Bed Bath & Beyoverstocked. In devastating news to fans of the Oxford comma, is rebranding to Bed Bath & Beyond after acquiring its assets and intellectual property for $21M at bankruptcy auction.

Cola as a Condiment. Pepsi, in collaboration with Culinary Institute of America Consulting,  has created it’s own spin own infused ketchup, called Colachup. The aim is to “reinforce just how well hot dogs and Pepsi go together.” What does it say about something when one of its greatest flavor pairings is a hot dog? “The Undisruptable Sauce” (May 19 in The Senses) may not be so undisruptable after all.

Pompeii Passes the Breadsticks. A newly discovered fresco painting at the archaeological dig site in Pompeii has revealed what looks to be the 2,000-year-old ancestor of pizza on a silver platter. The thought that Jesus and his disciples may have “gathered 'round the good stuff” really warms our soul — much like a hot and fresh pizza pie.

Laplace’s Rule for Trusting Online Reviews. Laplace's rule of succession states “that if an event has occurred m times in succession, then the probability that it will occur again is (m+ 1)/(m+2).” It’s a formula for enumerative induction, or a way to reasonably determine the probability of the next coming instance of something, based on the total observed successive instances with room for variance in the unobserved ones. This beautifully short tutorial shows how to apply this rule to online seller reviews. Of course we nerd out about this sort of thing.

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