How much do you like fast food? Let’s be more specific: What are you willing to do for some free Wendy’s chicken nuggets? Before you start leaping off cliffs or skateboarding into traffic, keep in mind that in the Internet era you might not have to do much at all; just post to your favorite social network and let everyone else do the work.
In a culture mired in negative interactions, cross-aisle hostilities and general incivility, it’s nice to come across something whimsical, even if it is misguided or unrealistic. The latest example is sixteen-year-old Carter Wilkerson, who decided to ask Wendy’s (via Twitter): “Yo, @Wendys how many retweets for a year of free chicken nuggets?”
Instead of responding that it wasn’t possible or that they didn’t offer free items, the company’s PR team humorously replied with an astronomical retweet target: 18 million.
Challenge, as they say, accepted.
Wilkerson shared the exchange with Wendy’s with his followers on Twitter, stating “HELP ME PLEASE. A MAN NEEDS HIS NUGGS” in a tweet in early March. The post has now been retweeted 2.7 million times as of this writing, with over half a million likes.
To put this in context, the most popular tweet ever was from celebrity Ellen DeGeneres, who posted a star-studded selfie from the Academy Awards in 2014; she received 3.4 million retweets. Second place was a tweet from One Direction band member Louis Tomlinson, with 2.4 million retweets, and in third place was former President Barack Obama’s “four more years” tweet, with 900,000 retweets.
But it’s not just celebrities and politicians who are eager for social media approval. Large corporations are now interacting with viral sensations such as Carter in order to steal some of the attention to promote their own brands. Amazon, Microsoft, Apple Music, T-Mobile, the beleaguered United Airlines, GoDaddy, and even Mattress Firm have jumped on the nuggets re-tweet bandwagon, endorsing Wilkerson and helping him gain visibility. Microsoft berated Amazon and Google for not supporting Wilkerson’s race for the nuggets.
That other species known for trying to hog the spotlight—politicians have, not surprisingly, joined in. The Governor of Nevada, Wilkerson’s home state, publicly endorsed his tweet. And, in a craven bid for attention, Sen. Ron Wyden is blatantly mimicking Wilkerson’s quest by asking President Donald Trump if he will release his tax returns if Wyden’s tweet gets 18 million retweets (HELP ME PLEASE. A MAN NEEDS HIS W2s).
Of course, all of this is a P.R. bonanza for Wendy’s, whose chicken nuggets are deemed average by most consumers (although a few people are serious fans). It’s a moment of Internet fame for Carter Wilkerson as well.
But the attention surrounding the Great Nuggets Retweet of 2017 begs the question of whether this is all just a huge distraction from things we should be giving our attention to. During the Great Depression there were dance marathons, gold fish swallowing challenges, flag pole sitting contests and even kissing marathons, all useful for distracting the public from the fact that the country was suffering twenty-five percent unemployment. What does it say about our society when a teen looking for some free food can garner more support than any politician, celebrity or homeless support organization online? Perhaps it says that, as a society, we’re too chicken to confront our real problems.