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Depression Shouldn’t Be a #Brand Engagement Strategy

Another food brand dominates social media by sharing bleak messages on Twitter

Last night, the Twitter account for Sunny D — the ultra-sugary non-juice product beloved by tweens and teens — shared a cryptic message: “I can’t do this anymore.” The tweet, sent during the Super Bowl but which surfaced on many users’ feeds for the first time Monday morning, attracted a fair amount of criticism from other Twitter users who saw it as an attempt to use the implication of a mental health crisis as part of a drink company’s social media presence. The tweet would inspire other “concerned” or understanding tweets from other brands, like Moon Pie, Pop-Tarts, and Little Debbie, which would nest the Sunny D tweet along with self-care tips for those who “feel like giving up, ”like “speak with loved ones who will help break you from negative self-talk.” (The Little Debbie tweet was later deleted.)

This new tweet represents an evolution of one of 2018’s most groan-worthy social media trends: brands selling you depression. But unlike, say, the Steak-Umm’s mental health rant from last year, Sunny D created a message — “I can’t do this anymore” — that is vague and seemingly designed to mean different things to different Twitter users. Some people read it as a whimsical comment about post-Super Bowl inertia, but clearly, others read it as a cry for help.

The Sunny D tweet arrived shortly after a few high-profile performers shared troubling messages about mental health on social media, leading their friends and the authorities to respond in real life. Back in December, SNL comedian Pete Davidson Instagrammed the message, “I really don’t want to be on this earth anymore,” prompting a police officer to go to his house to check on the star. (Davidson would later acknowledge the incident during a “Weekend Update” sketch on SNL.) And last month, rapper CupcakKe tweeted a message about planning to commit suicide, leading friends to get in touch with local police, who then took her to the hospital. She later tweeted, “I’ve been fighting with depression for the longest ..sorry that I did it public last night but I’m okay,” noting that “im [sic] finally getting the help that I need to get through.”

Especially right now, Twitter users are attuned to spot any tweet that could be considered a cry for help — which is why this new Sunny D message is all the more egregious. Outside of its original context, 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 not only 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, others argued; an attempt to leverage the conversations about millennial burnout and Gen Z’s anxiety into brand engagement.

And sadly, based on the trail of retweets and replies that Sunny D has been serving up, it appears that it’s encouraging the “life is hard” interpretation of the tweet:

Despite the considerable amount of engagement generated by that tweet, Sunny D never followed up with any more information about what inspired the tweet, aside from this vague message:

These tweets are also aligned with one of the most annoying social media trends of the new year: brands that tweet in the first person. The message, it seems, is that these Twitter accounts are actual real souls, lost in a digital ether. They feel pain, but you will never really know why. The least you can do, though, is pay attention to their suffering, and maybe think of their struggle the next time you’re in the drink aisle. But there is also a second option: ignore the brand and its disingenuous act completely, and hopefully, eventually, these stunts will come to an end.

If you or anyone you know is considering suicide or self-harm or is anxious, depressed, upset, or needs to talk, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741. For international resources, here is a good place to begin.

Update: An earlier version of this post indicated the the tweet was from Monday morning. This post has been updated to indicate that it was shared during the Super Bowl, but appeared in many people’s feeds this morning.

@sunnydelight [E]
How Food Brands Sold You Depression in 2018 [E]