Back in my day, we used to have to call a 1-800 number, wait 20 minutes on hold for an uninterested operator, and then demand to speak with a manager if we had any hope of getting free stuff in the mail.
These days, there’s a jovial marketing team of millennials behind your favorite brand on Twitter, just waiting for an opportunity to slide into your DMs and give you freebies.
Now people are sending direct messages to brands asking how many retweets they’d need to get a super expensive product for free, and brands are responding with ridiculous, unattainable numbers ― often demanding retweets in the millions; way more retweets than any one post has ever received.
Some of these campaigns are getting hundreds of thousands, if not millions of retweets, giving free advertising to brands while giving next to nothing ― except maybe 15 seconds on The Internet’s Grand Stage ― to the consumers.
The whole thing was real cute when it first went viral.
A guy named Carter Wilkerson asked Wendy’s how many retweets it would take to get free chicken nuggets for a year. Wendy’s responded a minute later with “18 million,” and the internet went crazy. To his credit, Wilkerson has 2.9 million retweets as of this writing, but he hasn’t even reached Ellen DeGeneres’ record of 3.3 million retweets, and he’d need about 5 percent of the entire Twitterverse on his side to reach the 18 million goal.
Wilkerson isn’t even drunk on his newfound power. He’s selling T-shirts emblazoned with the now infamous hashtag #NuggsForCarter, and says the proceeds will go toward adoption services in the U.S.
It all goes downhill from there. The Twitter user embedded above gave Mercedes-Benz more than 248,000 retweets worth of free advertising. Then you’ve got smaller campaigns like this one, between a user looking for free wings and Hooter’s:
Brand analysts say there might be more behind-the-scenes work at play with this new advertising scheme.
“It’s sort of a smarter story from the influencer’s side,” Melissa Gonzalez, a retail and market analyst based in New York, told HuffPost. “People are looking to get that virality, so they’re gonna post a picture of that direct message hoping that it gets picked up and makes people follow them more.”
Gonzalez also noted that it’s nigh impossible to tell whether some of these brands might be working with Twitter users or other influencers to sell a product. Regardless, it’s hard to establish the value of a retweet to a company, but you can’t imagine that Wendy’s spent many employee hours coming up with one tweet that said, “18 million.”
Asking brands for free stuff in exchange for retweets doesn’t often work out, but sometimes the attempts are just hilarious (the Smash Mouth example especially):
Even HuffPost’s own Igor Bobic fell victim to the trend, though we’ll give him a pass because the man just wants his salad back on the menu:
Everyone else, just stop. Your favorite brands are more savvy than ever before online, and they’re feeding off your followers.
But now that we’re here, hey United, how many retweets for a scorpion to drop down and sting me mid-flight? Oh, wait...