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Focus on Gen Z: Meta-Cringe, the anti-hero of brands

If you spend as much time on TikTok as the average Gen Z, you might have heard of the latest social media trend called ‘Meta-Cringe’. Urban Dictionary defines the phenomenon as “the act of cringing at somebody who is deliberately aware of what makes you and most people cringe”. In essence, Meta-Cringe blurs the distinction between sincerity and irony, making it difficult for others to determine whether or not it is a joke. This cringe humour holds value on TikTok and is becoming increasingly popular - just think of the success of Amelia Dimoldenberg and her intentionally awkward vibe in Chicken Shop Date or the wonderful TikTok personas of Bailey J Mills. After a long reign of polished clean girls and aloof cool girls, viewers welcome content based on life's clumsy and embarrassing moments, even if it means they have to suffer physically in the process.

But ultimately, when you reach peak Meta-Cringe, it doesn’t matter either way. In light of the bleak socio-political zeitgeist, Gen Z-ers turn to Meta-Cringe as a means of escape, rebellion and a rejection of the shifting sands of day-to-day reality. Meta-Cringe speaks to a denial of the commercialisation of our entire existence. Most people can’t afford to be cool in this economy, so we may as well just be cringe and go to that Shrek Rave or Taylor Swift dance party.

When it comes to brands, it is much harder for them to hop on the Meta-Cringe bandwagon for profit as Meta-Cringe is completely at odds with their raison-d’être. In order to pull off Meta-Cringe with style and credibility, brands need to create media that demonstrates that they don’t take themselves too seriously. This said, caution is advised as trend hijacking may be dissonant with brand values and lack authenticity.


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