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The Steak-Umm Effect

by Adam Sobsey

You can surprise your audience not only by what you say, but by the very fact that you’re the one saying it. Let’s call it the Steak-umm Effect. The cultural relevance of this 50-year-old relic of the prepackaged food industry was as thin and frozen as its product until a couple of weeks ago, when its Twitter feed went way off script and caused a sensation.

Just after Easter, Steak-umm’s Twitter account announced that “during this crisis, we are committed to: 1.) providing factual, helpful information; 2.) bridging our cultural polarization; and 3.) helping people who are helping people.” This message came during a series of shockingly frank, decidedly noncommercial tweets which, over the next week or so, grew increasingly complex in their sociological, economic, and political thinking until they reached a level of philosophical inquiry usually reserved for college humanities theses.

Instead, this message comes from a company that made no bones about reminding its followers, on April 10, “We are just a frozen meat brand with a bottom line.” Since then, Steak-umm has been flying out of freezers in grocery stores, which can barely keep the stuff stocked, and the company’s Twitter account has increased its followers by 40 percent in a week and a half.

The lesson for communicators may be this: What is no one expecting you to say right now? And the content of that message: how can it ring out in ways that everyone will want to hear it?

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