In the era of digital media and social networking, Gen Z is harnessing their collective creativity and technological prowess to reshape the way we engage with advertising content. The power of YouTube and TikTok has provided a sandbox platform for “the kids”, as I call them, to embrace and remix video advertising songs, creating a vibrant subculture of creative expression and unexpected content, of which advertisers have almost zero control over. The latter can be downright absurd, and sometimes even scary. (More on that later.)
But it’s not just the latest pop or rap song subject to a digital hacksaw, advertisement songs (aka jingles) and videos are transformed into something entirely new and unexpected. This process provides a sense of empowerment to the consumer. By engaging with advertising content in this way, they actively participate in shaping popular culture rather than passively consuming it. These creations have the potential to go viral, reaching millions of viewers worldwide. This virality creates a ripple effect, sparking conversations, trends, and cultural references that become a part of popular culture.
But first, a brief history:
The origin of advertising jingles can be traced back to the 1850s when businesses started using catchy tunes to promote their products. The 1920s to 1950s marked the golden age of advertising jingles with the rise of commercial radio. As television became popular in the 1950s and '60s, jingles found a new medium to reach a larger audience. Companies like Coca-Cola, Oscar Mayer, and McDonald's are among those that used jingles to create lasting brand awareness. Catchy little tunes became an integral part of commercials, embedding brand messages into the minds of viewers on a national scale.
After a slight decline on the late 90s / early 2000s, jingles are back in a big way. In the digital age, jingles have found a new life through online platforms and social media. Short, catchy sounds are used in digital campaigns (sometimes just a few seconds), and brands intentionally create viral shorts (or try desperately) to gain widespread attention.
Which bring us to power tools, and a cat.
Created way back in 2021 (an eternity for web culture), the Cat Vibing to the Home Depot Theme Song is an origin story of sorts, to an unexpected new genre. (The vibing cat itself originated in yet another video but I digress…)
It has all the critical elements of a smash viral hit:
- A cat (Cats in internet memes are a tale as old as time.)
- A cheesy corporate jingle
The video itself is hilarious. The cat’s head bobbing to the beat juxtaposed with images of construction workers and power tools makes me laugh every time, and yes, I have watched it many times over. It’s absurd.
It’s popularity among Gen Z is something a corporate marketing campaign could never achieve intentionally. (Go ahead and try Home Depot, prove me wrong!)
First of all, the video is uploaded with a straight-to-the-point tagline of “F*ck Lowes. All my homies use Home Depot.” If I was the VP of Marketing at Home Depot, I would have that quote framed and hanging in my office. I might even pitch it as the new official tagline and get fired.
But in all seriousness, here’s the magic within. Comments for this creation include:
“Not going to lie, the Home Depot song is actually pretty good.”
“Why did it take me 21 years of living before realizing this song SLAPS”
And THIS gem:
“I want this to be an official ad on tv.”
Can you imagine this running as an actual ad? It would be amazing. But you can’t. The UGC aspect is the key to success.
But not to worry Home Depot, as of today the video has amassed well over 4M views. (The average video on the Home Depot official YouTube channel has about 10k views.) Clearly this is resonating.
Does Home Depot have a clue? Do they know this even exists? That nugget of information is not known to me, but it’s still here at 2 years after upload, and that is the right course of action. Leave it alone. Don’t stop the fun. The last thing you want as a brand is a negative reaction viral sensation.
The trend of remixing video advertising songs and videos is revolutionizing the advertising industry itself. Smart brands recognize the value of engaging with young audiences through this user-generated content. Some brands actively encourage users to create their own remixes and share them online, further blurring the lines between traditional advertising and user-driven content.
A Purple Monster is on a Murderous Rampage
An example of a massively viral campaign gone completely off the rails is the McDonald’s celebration of the goofy purple-blob mascot Grimace and the return of the limited-time offer, purple “Grimace Shake”.
In the "Grimace Shake" TikTok trend, users have created mini horror movies mocking the effects of drinking the mysterious concoction.
I can just imagine the boardroom meeting at McDonald’s.
“What’s the status report?”
“Good news boss! Our Grimace Shake is going viral on TikTok!”
“That’s amazing. Tell me more.”
“Well, what’s trending is… kids drink the shake!”
“And then… well, this is awkward.”
“Yes, go ahead. Out with it.”
“After they drink the shake, they… ummmm… convulse and die.”
“WHAAAAAAAT?” *Boss spits coffee all over shiny conference room desk*
So, what is really going on here? Thousands of examples on the social media platform show users in a creepy scene after trying out the mysterious beverage (which is meant to celebrate Grimace’s birthday). Shortly after taking a sip of the special shake, the video cuts to the creators mimicking horror movie-style death scenes. The purple liquid can be found dribbling out of their mouths, splattered like blood all over the floor, and even oozing from their nostrils. It’s all very nasty.
I can't imagine McDonald's could have ever pictured the Grimace shake going viral quite like this.
@ruiz_alv04 via TikTok / @McDonalds via Twitter
It would have been very understandable for McDonald’s to try to put a stop to this trend immediately. Videos of customers literally going crazy and dying from consuming your product? A nightmare!
Or is it?
As a brand, what would you do?
McDonald’s did the right thing.
They sat back and watched.
With a wink and nod from Grimace himself, McDonald’s gave a sly seal of approval essentially saying, “We get it. We’re not going to interfere with this. Go forth and create you crazy rascals! Oh, and btw, please keep eating at McDonald’s!”
Full disclosure - my young son, who typically does not eat at McDonald’s, bought the shake (along with a giant burger meal) immediately when this was all happening.
McDonald’s understood that Gen Z has a particularly wacky sense of humor, and this trend was high praise. Taking an innocent mascot like Grimace and mixing it with a Stranger Things vibe is just… so Gen Z. It’s weird. It’s retro. It’s parody. And even though it’s dark and creepy, it’s playful. It’s the ultimate mashup.
The trend absolutely blew up online with videos containing the hashtag #grimaceshake amassing over 3 billion views.
With a B.
McDonald’s provided the tools - A stylized online campaign featuring a nostalgic retro character, and a weird purple shake. The creative audience provided the content. It’s very hard to intentionally plan something like this. Can you imagine a meeting where a marketing agency pitched this very idea, and promised McDonalds a billion engagements? You’d get kicked out of the room. Even when brands pay big bucks to influencers, the content often seems forced, fake. Gen Z in has a keen bs meter. When marketing content blows up organically and is a genuine positive experience, it’s the best-case scenario a brand can ever dream of.
As an “old man” Gen X’er myself, I hate to admit it but, through their imaginative reinterpretations, Gen Z has not only contributed to popular culture but also transformed the advertising industry itself. As this trend continues to evolve, it presents exciting opportunities for brands to connect with their target audience in new and authentic ways, harnessing the power of user-generated content. But as you can see, proceed with caution.
The “kids today” are indeed leading a revolution, where the remix becomes an art form and advertising becomes a source of inspiration and creative collaboration.
Now please excuse me, I gotta go... I’m suddenly in the mood for McDonald’s.