The Uncanny Valley of Brand Tweets

There’s a concept familiar to tech nerds and fans of sci-fi called the Uncanny Valley. It posits that, as robots become increasingly human, individuals will feel increasingly empathetic towards them. People’s reactions will be more and more positive. There comes, however, a point at which the likeness becomes too close for comfort; the just-more-than-barely human entity becomes repulsive and terrifying and remains so until it is engineered to become indistinguishable from humans again. The dip in positive reception of robots (or other designed entities) that fall between almost human and totally human is the uncanny valley. Here, a graph from an academic paper by Karl F. MacDorman on the topic:

From MacDorman, K. F. (2005). Androids as an experimental apparatus: Why is there an uncanny valley and can we exploit it? CogSci-2005 Workshop: Toward Social Mechanisms of Android Science, 106-118.
From MacDorman, K. F. (2005). Androids as an experimental apparatus: Why is there an uncanny valley and can we exploit it? CogSci-2005 Workshop: Toward Social Mechanisms of Android Science, 106-118.


This concept is what springs to mind when reading Kate Losse’s excellent piece in the New Inquiry about #weirdtwitter being co-opted by brand twitter feeds. She starts off by pulling up Denny’s feed, which I’ll admit caught my eye recently. To be blunt, it’s on point. Here are a few examples:

Losse’s thesis, essentially, is that this type of casual, on-meme tone traverses traditionally acceptable brand voice and transgresses a niche realm of digital communication. In doing so, a brand stands to yield significant positive feedback (as we’re unaccustomed to hearing brands in this way) while becoming, in Losse’s words, “cuter than any person” in its ageless hip-ness. Her concerns center primarily around power, resistance, and intimacy. Through conversing this way online, brands hedge in on the social capital of individuals and assert the fundamentally uneven power dynamic between corporations and consumers. In concluding, Losse writes:

“It isn’t enough for Denny’s to own the diners, it wants in on our alienation from power, capital, and adulthood too. While we giggle at corporate #weirdtwitter tweets, the corporate invulnerability that makes them easy to follow is also what makes their assumption of a human, familiar voice feel, despite our laughter and faves, cold and a bit pathological. Denny’s too wants to belong.”

While I primarily agree with Losse’s analysis, I think that this can more profitably be analyzed from a far simpler angle, namely the quest for brands to become more human.

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Side Notes: Napkin Backs and Connected Life 2014

When I’m not writing about the Internet here or writing about the Internet for school, I’m working on creative projects and coming up with ideas for ads. Here’s a bit on two things I’ve been working on lately, with links to check them out.


Napkin Backs

I’ve come up with a bunch of ideas for brands that fit on the back of a napkin. Each has a blurb and strategic breakdown provided in the caption, but I held myself to the requirement that the meat of the concept needed to fit in the napkin-allotted space. You can check out the collection here:


Connected Life 2014

I’m on the Marketing, PR and Web team for Connected Life 2014, the first iteration of a student-run conference for emerging Internet research. It’s being held at the University of Oxford on June 12th, 2014. Registration is open, and we’re still accepting submissions for student presenters. Learn more here:

This Week’s Internet Dating Thought Piece: Lulu

The Internet is a great, pervy equalizer in that it allows anyone and everyone to judge people and rate their sexual attractiveness from afar. From the questionably wholesome OkCupid to the down-to-business Grindr to the friend/location-gated Tinder to my all-time-favorite super creepy crazily named app “Girls Around Me,” it’s variations on a theme. These are just more ways to look a pictures of hot strangers and avoid hooking up with someone who’s making a woman suit at home. You know, the basics.

Guys, this is REAL.

Of course, we must concede that these platforms can only be so effective. It’s an open secret that people tailor their social media profiles to seem as appealing as possible, accuracy sometimes taking a back seat. You can more easily manipulate perceptions or flat out lie when your you-ness is mediated by a set of screens. And though researchers have suggested that these deceptions are usually pretty minor (adding an inch or two to one’s height as opposed to, say, a history of being a fighter jet pilot)*, we’ve all heard our fair share of online dating horror stories in which a profile definitely did not match the person. Let’s be real. No matter what apps we make to reassure ourselves, we’re always still rolling the dice.

Some dating platforms eschew any premise of providing “the full picture.” Location-based dating apps, for example, aren’t really designed for getting to know someone in any other way than the biblical sense. But I’m always curious about those communities, apps, and platforms that promise to either deliver a more appealing specimen (like the eyebrow-raising or else claim to let you know what people are really like. I approach these with a stifling cynicism or healthy skepticism, depending on your thoughts about online dating. I think it’s fun to look at these platforms and ask, “What’s your game, friend?” Because typically, the game is interesting or at least kind of weird.

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