Why Things Like Yanny Vs. Laurel Take Up Our Time

May 22, 2018 Ophelie Zalcmanis-Lai

Chaos. Just utter chaos.

That is an apt description of May 16 for many people across the internet. In the same vain as the frustration that was sparked after the blue vs. gold dress debate, another battle of perception went viral.

Unless you’ve been completely disconnected this last little bit, you already know that we’re talking about Yanny vs. Laurel.

Our own offices essentially burst into flames with all the arguments going on. Some people were adamant. Some people flip flopped throughout the day and were mind-boggled by it.

As we said, it was chaos.

According to Times, “the recording went viral after it first surfaced on Reddit” earlier in the week. After it was shared to Twitter, it quickly reached into the hundreds of thousands of users talkinga about it.

But just like in 2015, we sit back and ask ourselves (after calming down) how rational-minded people can become so engulfed in what is essentially a meaningless debate?

Though in the moment respective “Yannies” and “Laurels” probably didn’t think it was meaningless (guilty as charged), it’s almost laughable how consumed everyone became about it. Throughout the day people just kept fanning the flames – and for what?  

This is what captured our minutes this week.

Here’s why:

People are super emotional and it pushes them to invest time in these completely random videos, pictures, memes, etc.

Seriously, studies have been done where it’s been found that people are more likely to involve themselves in viral content if that content inspires a strong emotional response in them. It could be something positive, like laughter, or negative, like anger.

If you want to dip into psychological theories even more, there’s the case for “emotional contagion.” Just like it sounds, it basically means that people become so greatly influenced by those around them that they determine the “socially appropriate response” is to react similarly.

Contently also brings up the work of Jonah Berger in supporting this same idea. “His results indicated that highly shared content is typically useful, surprising, and positive, but above all, highly emotional.”  

Whether one hears Yanny or Laurel may not necessarily be useful in our lives, but it definitely got people emotional. They wanted to be right and prove others wrong! Competition is a big driver for us human beings.

Now with all this talk and excitement, you bet brands jumped on the bandwagon and got involved.

After all, it's like free reach. Why not jump in on that?

Well, here's why. 

The Washington Post released a very strongly-titled article that gave us a round up of brands who wanted to tap into that Yanny vs. Laurel reach. It was called “An infuriating collection of ‘Yanny or Laurel’ tweets from thirsty brands.”

As “Yanny or Laurel” exploded into “the dress” levels of exposure, the brands did what was inevitable: They began to tweet about the question, hoping to grab some of that attention for their own.

For a thirsty brand, the only thing better than April Fools’ Day is a hugely viral meme.


Jumping into viral content like that can be tricky. Church+State’s VP, Strategy Daniel Langer-Hack says, “it’s tough to build a strategy around when lightning might strike.”

He explains that there’s something to be said for brands that are nimble and can amplify when something does happen. However, meaningful cultural trends that may help inform a longer-term strategy is a much smarter bet.

Not to mention, The Washington Post wasn’t all wrong in its post. Using trending content as a crutch isn’t a true replacement for valuable original content. It’s laziness – sorry, not sorry.

Original and meaningful content is what really shapes a brand for its audiences. It’s the stuff that provides extra substance behind your brand. With it, audiences are able to establish connections and make strong associations that keep them coming back to the brands they love.

Piggy backing can be done, like in Wendy’s case where a Twitter user edited the audio to be brand-specific and Wendy's was responding. 

So, if you’re going to piggy back, do so meaningfully. It should relate to what your brand values and beliefs are in some way and be just as short-lived as the viral content itself. Wendy’s may not have some strong emotional content to Yanny vs. Laurel, but when it comes to splicing that with messaging around “fresh, never frozen beef” then it begins to make sense.

The reach may be enticing, but too much piggy backing dilutes the strength of the brand’s character in the eyes of everyday consumers.

Just like you wouldn’t want your favourite influencer to say yes to all and any products (especially when it risks contradiction), brands shouldn’t jump on hot ticket conversation. At that point, the brand just loses its authentic voice.  

Ultimately, we don’t care whether you hear Yanny or Laurel, or both. And, most brands shouldn’t care either. They should focus on their own lane and see if they might be able to pull off their own Yanny or Laurel moment, but in a way that’s valuable for both the brand and its audiences.    

At the end of the day, people engage with content by lending their minutes. Content is successful when its battery is fully charged with attention.

What will win this week?

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The Battle for Time - Week of May 13.