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SOCIAL CYNICISM
UNDERSTAND IT
UNDERSTAND IT

In August 2021, Khaby Lame became the second person (after Charli D’Amelio) to surpass 100 million followers on TikTok. His gambit? Making fun of other TikTokers. He’s one of a number of creators who’ve found success in this way, marking a shift to a more self-aware social landscape.


Social media has become a parody of itself. Creators that call bullshit on social tropes are no longer just heroes of the fringes, but mainstream icons that match established players.

There’s long been a healthy amount of cynicism attached to the stereotypes found in our feeds. This was once reserved for macro influencers like the Kardashians – with their Facetuned images, and perceived prioritisation of clout over creativity – or for the algorithms that fill our feeds, skewing our understanding of political discourse, body image and so much more.


But now, meme admins, digital artists, and comedians are also under the magnifying glass. Challenges have become saturated and overproduced, while meme pages are slaves to engagement as dictated by platforms. Let’s not even get started on where brands fit into all this.


In short, people are seeking a break from the expected. And while all this might sound a little damning, think of it as a wake-up call. In this environment, newness has never looked better. It’s driving a kind of creative renaissance, for individuals and brands alike.


Creators are pushing back against social’s status quo, using comedy and informed critique to manifest a more creative social landscape.

of Gen Zers globally say social media algorithms are having a negative impact on their media diet

(We Are Social, 2021)

SOCIAL CYNICISM
WHAT’S DRIVING IT?
WHAT’S DRIVING IT?
@maddielyonsx

#faceapp #instagram #fyp

♬ I get krazy - The real Huey Freeman✨
Many are concerned that aesthetic tastes have been homogenise by social media algorithms.
IN CULTURE
The monoculture. From the rise of ‘Instagram face’ to the homogeneity of aesthetics in spaces like wellness or fashion, there’s a sense that algorithmically served digital media is compressing the internet into polished, pastel-coloured, commercially friendly tablets of content.

The monoculture
The most popular social app is a video app
Collaborative tools have invited critique.
ON PLATFORMS
Collaborative creativity. The rise of collaborative tools popularised on TikTok (particularly Duets and Stitches) has laid the groundwork for a form of social creativity whereby users build on what others have already put out there. Sometimes, this is about complementing and adding to others’ work – but increasingly, it’s being used to commentate and critique.
SOCIAL CYNICISM

THE BEHAVIOURAL CHANGE

THE BEHAVIOURAL CHANGE

META-INFLUENCERS

Khaby Lame is just one of the many influencers who’s gained global fame for mocking the trends and creators he sees in his own feed. Wellness page @afffirmations has blown up for a similar reason, parodying the aesthetic and tone of wellness industries, and drawing millions of followers in the process.



Affirmations offers an ironic take on inspirational mantras.

THE SHITPOSTING REVIVAL
Instagram accounts like @doyoueverjustfuckingascend and @on_a_downward_spiral are meme pages that refuse to conform to expectations, created in response to the swathes of cookie-cutter meme pages that can be found elsewhere on the platform.
The most popular social app is a video app

Shitposting pages are a response to a fatigue with meme pages cluttered with ads and worn-out tropes.

CRITIQUE AS CONTENT
At the more serious end of this spectrum of cynicism, swathes of creators are using videos from other users as the subject matter for their own commentary, offering perspectives on how social tropes have enforced damaging norms around beauty, race, sexuality and more. While @_anastasiagracia_ comments on the harmful conventions highlighted in the videos that show up in her feed, #Americancore was a satirical hashtag created to highlight the issue with trends like #Asiancore and #Orientialcore.
@_anastasiagracia_

#stitch with @marysherb #fypシ #CurameChoreo #ShowYourGlow

♬ FVN! - LVL1
Anastasia Gracia comments on the values that underpin the ‘overlining’ beauty trend.
SOCIAL CYNICISM

USE IT

USE IT
We’re seeing a shift from a social landscape saturated with tropes to a self-aware social landscape in which creativity can thrive. While this shift could be seen as hostile for brands, it’s creating opportunities to break new creative ground.
Heinz is pushing back against perfect food tropes.
Learn from Heinz. Brands can encourage people to push back against digital tropes. In response to a picture perfect online food culture that’s grown both aesthetically and edibly predictable, Heinz is celebrating weird food combos with social campaign #NormaliseHeinzOnEverything – delivered with the line ‘saucy not sorry’.
@yunggravy

2020 seemed like an L until this very moment. my idol followed me

♬ Martha Stewart - Yung Gravy
Martha Stewart collaborated with rapper Yung Gravy to turn his viral song about her into an ad.
Learn from McDonald's and Martha Stewart. Brands can poke fun at themselves and the social stereotypes of their industries. One way to align with this shift is to remix or subvert typical brand behaviors online: Mcdonald's recently changed all their social avatars to an intentionally bad redesign of their logo by TikToker Emily Zugay, while Martha Stewart has created an ad in collaboration with rapper Yung Gravy, featuring a viral track he wrote about her.
Gucci cut through to Arab audiences by calling out the lack of realism attached to the status quo.
Learn from Gucci. Brands can cut through in cluttered cultural moments by calling out the status quo. During Ramadan, brands speaking to Arab audiences on social tend to go big on the narratives around family: sickly sweet accolades about the pristine relationships that define the family home, delivered in flawless Instagram posts. In 2021, Gucci scrapped this approach, instead opting to create a parody of traditional ‘80s Arabic soap operas. Named #MusalaGucci, the campaign nods to the usual way of doing things, but opts instead to exaggerate the turbulence families face at big traditional occasions.