SALT LAKE CITY — At around 6:30 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday, the social media team behind Sunny Delight’s account tweeted, “I can’t do this anymore.”
The tweet was posted during the thick of what some have called “a truly awful” Super Bowl halftime show, and to many, it was a relatable response to the whole night.
While some viewed Sunny D’s tweet as a funny response to the game, however, others responded to it as though it was an actual cry for help.
Sunny D’s tweet, which has been retweeted nearly 140,000 times, caught the attention of big brand accounts like Wikipedia, MoonPie, and Pop-Tarts, which chimed in with “concern” for Sunny D and offered self-care tips and words of encouragement to the brand.
The tweet and subsequent responses to it have been a source of lighthearted entertainment for many, but they’ve also fueled conversation and debate over whether Sunny D and other brands like it are exploiting mental illness by using “performative depression” to push sales and increase customer loyalty through social media.
Though Sunny D hasn't commented on their tweet (which could have been a nod to the dull and slow Super Bowl), the social media post joins many other brands in a broader marketing movement where brands are taking on first-person personas on social media to increase user engagement and brand loyalty, according to critics.
Over the course of the past six to seven years, big brands like Wendy’s, which was dubbed “the mean girl of Twitter” in 2017, and MoonPie have increasingly adopted snarky, melancholic, and even dismissive online voices that are hugely successful for them, at least in social media engagement.
People seem to crave that level of authenticity and relatability from brands, and brands, in turn, are giving it to them.
But, according to Eater.com's Chris Fuhrmeister, these exchanges, some of which sell depression and pessimism, are ultimately still rooted in brands’ attempts to make money.
By packaging a “seething pessimism” and “selling depression,” Fuhrmeister argues, brands are complicit in “ramping up the waves of depression and disillusionmentthat come as a result of prolonged exposure to bad vibes and bad news.”
For example, last year, frozen-steak brand Steak-umm broke the fourth wall on Twitter to tweet a rant about why young people are flocking to brands on social media.
Nathan Allebach, the mind behind the @steak_umm account, said that the rant came from a “sad millennial.”
Allebach told Mel Magazine, “The rant that went viral resonates because of the idea of loneliness … there’s obviously a mental health epidemic going on, and more people seem anxious, depressed or isolated. I can’t even tell you how many people, mostly kids, have DM’d me about how they don’t know what to go to college for, they don’t know what to do as a career.”
Taylor Lorenz, an online subculture writer for The Atlantic, told Mel Magazine, “We’re in this dark time culturally, and it’s hard to relate to young people unless you go full-on depression mode.”
Still, brands are brands, and it’s impossible, Fuhrmeister wrote, to look at brand tweets about depression, anxiety or other mental issues as anything other than advertising.
Though Sunny D’s tweet was vague, it also comes at a time when several high-profile performers have shared alarming and similar messages about their own mental health on social media. According to a separate Eater article, Twitter users are on high alert for tweets considered cries for help.
“Outside of its original context,” according to Eater, “its vagueness elicited lots of real emotions and concerns: If the social media manager of this account needs help, the powers that be at Sunny D should … step in and let the employee take a mental health break, some thought.
“If this was a more calculated stunt — if there was no one actually suffering on the other end of the Twitter account — then this is just an act of pure exploitation.”
Sunny D has not commented on the controversy surrounding their tweet. They instead continue to retweet other Twitter users replying to Sunny D’s initial tweet.