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The power and pitfalls of topical memes: Aldi faces backlash over “tone deaf” Baby Reindeer social media post

Posted by Abby Oldroyd in Comment

3 days ago

Aldi recently came under fire for posting a “hideously tone deaf” meme on X (formerly Twitter) about its prices, featuring images from the new Netflix series Baby Reindeer.

For context, the show tackles serious themes such as stalking, mental health and sexual assault, and was inspired by the real life events of the producer, writer and star Richard Gadd’s complicated relationship with a woman, portrayed by a character named Martha.

Aldi’s meme is a picture of Martha sitting on a bar stool pointing at Gadd’s character, Donny, who is working behind the bar. Next to Donny, the company has added text that reads “Our Prices” while on top of Martha, it has written “Tesco and Sainsbury’s”, suggesting the other supermarkets copy its prices. The caption reads: “Obsessed.”

Given the show’s serious nature, many have criticised the supermarket for being distasteful. Journalist Yasmine Summan called out the brand on X and said: “It doesn’t sit right with me that people, especially brands, are making memes about this show that’s main theme is stalking and sexual abuse.” Several people agreed with her in the comments, and described it as “hideously tone deaf” and “so weird”. Another X user, Mothra Mars, responded to Aldi’s post and said: “Sexual assault and stalking isn’t a fun little joke”, while copywriter Vikki Ross questioned why brands feel the need to jump on every trend.

This isn’t the first time a brand has faced criticism for sharing a distasteful meme in an attempt to appear in tune with internet culture. Last year, Warner Bros US issued an apology for its “insensitive” social media posts after engaging with “Barbenheimer” memes that included imagery of the atom bomb.

Australian swimwear brand Budgy Smuggler faced backlash after sharing a meme that ridiculed a moment during the 94th Academy Awards in 2022 when actor Will Smith walked on stage and assaulted comedian Chris Rock. The brand was called out for using a moment of violence to promote its products and engage with consumers. One user went viral after warning brands of the dangers of capitalising on these moments, especially if it doesn’t fit your strategy.

In 2021, Pepsi capitalised on the success of the Netflix series Squid Game and posted its logo seared into the Dalgona honeycomb game, which sees players carve out shapes from cookies, with the caption “IYKYK” (“if you know you know”). The brand was slammed for failing to grasp the message of the show.

Aldi’s post is just the latest example of why brands should not engage with meme marketing without careful thought. While this format can be an opportunity for companies to engage in online conversation and leverage viral moments, a misjudged meme can cause mild mockery in the best cases and outright backlash in the worst scenarios.

Aldi has yet to acknowledge or apologise for its meme, which may prove to be a big error in judgement. To recover from damaged public perception, admitting to the mistake, offering an apology and committing to doing better should be the bare minimum.

Let this be a lesson. Don’t insert your brand where it doesn’t belong and don’t jump blindly into public conversations without thinking about the consequences or you might cause long-term reputation damage in the eyes of internet-savvy consumers.

By Abby Oldroyd, CORQ news and features writer. Picture credit: Richard Gadd via Instagram