Last Updated 6 months by Emily Standley-Allard
Unhinged social media content has taken some social platforms by storm. If you have been scrolling through social media recently and wondered why brands are jumping on trending memes and publishing risqué, “out there” content, then you will have seen first-hand an interesting type of strategy that prioritizes excitement and chaos over everything else.
This strategy, which we’ll refer to as “unhinged marketing”, has emerged as a timely rebuke to the overly curated and unadventurous content that populated most social media feeds five years ago.
Audiences are increasingly looking for more real and authentic brands, and that’s where unhinged comes into play.
With the rise of photo dumps (where a user on Instagram will upload up to 10 seemingly random and low-effort photos), it’s no surprise that there has been a shift in what audiences are looking for when scrolling through social content.
And that shift in what people are looking for can be attributed to when younger influencers and users – namely Gen Z – began sharing instant, unedited snaps on Instagram, which are in stark contrast to the polished, aspirational images that people generally preferred of perfect-looking food and holidays.
This new form of social media marketing is unfiltered, messy and spontaneous.
Brands now recognize that posting this stop-the-scroll content can make them more relatable, which helps to strengthen consumer relationships, and it can be a huge driving force for higher engagement.
What are examples of unhinged content?
Duolingo is arguably the brand that has best mastered the art of unhinged content.
The language-learning app has weaponized its owl mascot for a series of quirky and memorable videos that have taken TikTok by storm.
Its most popular clip, which riffs on pop singer Dua Lipa, has been viewed a staggering 38.5 million times.
Duolingo recently pushed the boundaries even further after responding to images of Katy Perry being slimed at the Kid’s Choice Awards in Los Angeles, with a lewd post on Twitter, which has since received 578,000 likes.
Budget airline Ryanair has seen similar success with its own unhinged content, which focuses on being funny and entertaining.
Ryanair found that superimposing amusing filters of faces and other items onto planes in videos made its content unique, and more importantly, it resonated with audiences.
It has also used memes to great effect on Twitter, where it reacted to Elon Musk’s plans to introduce an $8 monthly fee to get blue tick status, by pushing its own low-cost flights.
Drinks company Innocent is among the brands that have incorporated a certain level of “snark” and sarcasm in social media posts, to appear more authentic. It posted a survival guide for adults to “avoid kids” during the summer holidays, on Twitter.
The affordable supermarket chain, Lidl, was one of the first brands to embrace unhinged marketing by responding to trending news and stories with funny retorts and comments.
It even turned a potential negative PR incident involving a digger destroying one of its supermarkets into a social media win with posts that made light of the incident. Lidl often adopts that same cheeky mindset when responding to customer complaints too.
Is Unhinged Social Media Unprofessional?
Back when perfectly edited and professional images and videos dominated social media feeds, this sort of chaotic content may have been considered wholly unprofessional.
But times have changed, and customers now crave authentic content that goes beyond traditional boundaries.
This shift has given brands the chance to amuse, thrill and even shock audiences.
However, there will always be a certain element of risk for a brand when they decide to swing for the fences with unhinged content.
Freelance editor Sara Drumm sounds a note of caution for those looking to embrace chaos in their marketing.
She says it is “high risk” and “high reward”, with campaigns that hit the right notes helping brands to come across as honest, fun and authentic.
But she adds: “If it doesn’t land right, however, brands risk coming across as strange, unrelatable, or even offensive.”
One example of this is when Burger King posted a tweet that was supposed to be a sarcastic take on its campaign to promote scholarships for women employees, but that many took at face value as being outdated and misogynistic.
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Is ‘unhinged’ worth it?
So, if there are risks involved, is it worth it?
All of the case studies listed here are brands that mainly operate business-to-consumer (B2C) retail models.
Consumer-facing brands have traditionally had more creative licence within marketing to engage younger audiences, so it makes sense that unhinged content can really work in these settings.
But that doesn’t mean B2B marketers can’t get in on the act too. A study by Sprout Social found that the highest percentage of viral TikToks were humorous (36.5%), compared to 21.9% for dance and 21.3% for pets.
SaaS company Semrush says humor has been an integral part of its tone of voice on TikTok and a major part of its appeal to audiences.
But there is a difference between subtle humor and unhinged content that may not have the desired impact.
Fortunately, as many successful social media managers will tell you, there are a number of trial runs and failed videos before potential success.
Ryanair readily admits that it didn’t get it right to begin with, so you will have the chance to experiment and change things if your initial attempts at being unhinged don’t quite work.
This sort of experimentation usually works best when you join a platform for the first time, as you won’t have an established audience with existing expectations for the type and tone of content you publish.
If you don’t have a TikTok account yet, it might be the perfect time to embrace a new social media strategy that features unhinged content – especially if you want to reach younger audiences, since 43% of TikTok users are aged 18 to 24.
Unhinged content came about due to fatigue from content all looking and sounding the same.
There is a danger that brands could fall into the same trap by trying to adopt the same risky, chaotic approach to marketing, so it’s important that you keep up with new trends and memes and try to offer something different, that stands out but that still is true to your brand values and objectives.
If you want to start creating excellent content but don’t have an in-house team to greenlight campaigns that could transform your business on social media and via other online channels, a company like Atlasseo can help.
Contact them today to find out more.
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Annie-Mai Hodge (atlasseo.co.uk)
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