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Cool brand of the week: QAnon
What can QAnon teach us about brand cross-pollination?
In an exciting development for observers of difficult-to-explain phenomena, QAnon is back in the news. The group has garnered attention outside of its circle of mashed-potato brained adherents for spreading the theory that milquetoast furniture company, Wayfair, has been operating a globe-spanning child sex trafficking operation.
The rumor began when a QAnon theorist posted on Reddit that Wayfair was putting children inside of industrial-sized cabinets and shipping them across the world. A follow up tweet aiming to substantiate the Reddit claim showed images of the cabinets, each costing several thousand dollars, with names matching those of child trafficking victims.
The way the first claim was made and how the second followed in support is akin to building a house out of Pringles and painting it with barbeque sauce - it’s going to garner a lot of attention, but doesn’t hold up to scrutiny for anyone who has a basic understanding of how the world works.
For those not yet red-pilled, QAnon is a far-right conspiracy that believes there’s a secret plot by the deep state against president Donald Trump and his supporters. The deep state wants to remove Trump from office because according to them, there’s a:
...worldwide cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles who rule the world, essentially, and they control everything. They control politicians, and they control the media. They control Hollywood, and they cover up their existence, essentially. And they would have continued ruling the world, were it not for the election of President Donald Trump.
At least the Heaven’s Gate crew got to go to space.
If you’ve heard of QAnon before, it’s likely for its role in the ‘Pizzagate’ conspiracy theory that took place during the election cycle of 2016. At its core, the theory posited that a child sex trafficking ring was being run out of various Washington, DC. restaurants, of which the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria was one. As defenders against a worldwide satan worshipping cabal are wont to do, a man traveled to the restaurant from North Carolina to investigate the theory and fire a rifle inside. The rumor originated on 4chan and it’s subsequent spread can in large part be attributed to it making its way onto Twitter. Whereas the 4Chan demographic is more homogenous and insular, Twitter’s user-base spans many more disparate cohorts, thus giving the rumor a significantly wider audience.
Interplay between two brands can garner outside interest in that people who ordinarily wouldn’t care about either might start paying attention. For example, the recently released ‘Nike SB x Grateful Dead Dunks’ brings together the world’s largest shoe company with the world’s greatest rock band. The average age of the surviving members of The Grateful Dead is above 70 (RIP Jerry Garcia - again, don’t do heroin). I don’t know the average age of a person who cares about sneaker releases, but I feel safe saying it’s at least three decades less. Personally, I’ve never cared about a shoe release until my favorite band got involved and now here it is in my newsletter. I’m also sure there are people who own this sneaker who couldn’t even name two of The Grateful Dead’s keyboardists (pathetic).
(Above: Nike SB x Grateful Dead Dunks)
Unfortunately, the QAnon brand has yet again had a significant amount of interplay with the Twitter brand. Seven days ago, the social network permanently removed thousands of accounts associated with the conspiracy, attributing the removal to the potential for those accounts’ messages to cause harm, as well as the accounts having violated Twitter’s terms. Facebook is considering similar measures.
Like a long forgotten tuna sandwich, this QAnon/Twitter interplay has ushered a stink to the air that we’d all be better off without. Unlike the Nike/Grateful Dead collaboration though, there’s potential for collateral damage. Wearing a pair of the shoes above will get you ridiculed, proliferating QAnon theories to naive people who believe that world’s massive inequality is attributed to skin-wearing lizard people earns us lone gunmen in pinball pizzerias and legitimate businesses having to defend themselves against schlock sci-fi.
In isolation, there’s nothing wrong with believing dogs are interplanetary messengers sent to Earth to inform alien races about our martial weaknesses. After enough people start subscribing though, the conspiracy reaches a tipping point and gets amplified. In the context of QAnon, the spill eventually made its way to significant open currents - Michael Flynn posting QAnon slogans and Fox News hosts promoting QAnon theories - creating a conflagration of malevolent stupidity.
Deciding when, where, and how to put fences around this information is extraordinarily challenging. Imagine if everyone’s favorite Hale-Bopp surfers, Heaven’s Gate, had their brand cross-pollinated with Geraldo (remember, Heaven’s Gate happened in 1997). Would a substantial portion, rather than just the 39 that killed themselves, believe that Marshall Applewhite was Jesus reincarnate and that the only way for our consciousnesses to survive was for us to hitch a ride on a once in a lifetime comet?
(Above: Marshall Applewhite, leader of Heaven’s Gate. Quote is not verbatim.)
Brands can often exist inside an insular vacuum. But like QAnon, if that liner is punctured, and that brand begins to have interplay with another, the power of each intensifies substantially.
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Song of the week: In honor of 1997, Geraldo, and Heaven’s Gate, here’s my favorite song - and an all time great music video - from that year. ‘Around the World’ by Daft Punk: