Pepe The Frog may decide the US election

This US election has been very interesting from an advertising/communications perspective. While the Obama/Biden 2008 presidential campaign won both the Titanium and Integrated Grand Prix thanks to the effort's digital savvy which had huge success in community-building, the Trump digital savvy has either surpassed that by eons or is just sheer luck being perpetrated by a few hundred "shitposters" on social media. It all depends on who you ask.

The most recent "happening" was when Donald Trump Jr posted an image on his Instagram. It was a parody movie poster called "The Deplorables," where the Expendables' Stallone was replaced with Donald Trump, and to the right was a Rare Trump Pepe. A variation of this image had already been posted to subReddit "The_Donald" three days ago. In that lineup, The Deplorables were, from left to right, Steve Bannon, David Clarke, Bruce Willis, Steve Sailer, Chuck Norris, Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, Mike Pence, Milo Yiannopoulos, a "Rare Tactical Pepe", and Julian Assange.

It is not the first time Trump or his family have shared a Pepe meme on their social media channels. Donald Trump Sr tweeted this one (above) over a year ago. If you've never heard of Pepe the Frog or Rare Pepe you might have a life outside the internet. But rest assured, he is a familiar face to many people as he stems from a cartoon published in 2005. He is so familiar in fact, that celebrities have been tweeting him for years.

Hillary Clinton's vocal supporter, Katy Perry, has tweeted Pepe memes in the past. (archive) Nicki Minaj posted a twerking Pepe to Instagram, joking about trying to get her followers count back up. Even Motherboard reported on Pepe's popularity, and "normies ruining everything."

Considering the years of coverage and usage by mainstream culture, it's a downright head scratcher the Clinton campaign would now try to label Pepe as somehow being "neo-nazi." And yet Hillary Clinton's campaign has done just that, responding to the most recent Trump Pepe-posting with this "Pepe the Frog explainer" article on the Hillary Clinton website. In it, they declare Pepe The Frog "a symbol associated with white supremacy." The page then attempts to explain who Pepe is. And it's just as awkward as when brands like Red Lobster try to use bae. Or when Steve Buscemi asks "how do you do fellow kids?"

Mainstream journalists, who are also not known for being in touch, took the "White supremacy" ball and ran with it as gospel. The Independent, has reported on Clinton's attack on Trump for posting Pepe, while the Daily Dot interviewed Pepe's creator, who believes this Trump phase will soon pass. Amusingly, The Independent believes the film poster parodied is actually called "The Deplorables," and not The Expendables, which only proved the out-of-touch theory. They also seem to pin the Pepe controversy on... Gamergate, as they describe Pepe as "a cartoon amphibian which became controversial late last year after a group of gamers worked to associate it with Nazi propaganda." We've discussed Gamergate in 2014 here on Adland. Back then we warned that insulting consumers shrinks the market. In this case, Hillary is seemingly doing a Romney - her "basket of deplorables" comment could be as bad for her as Romney's 47% comment was to his campaign - but squared. What will insulting voters do to her "market"?


Just curious: Who else is in this photo?
Notably, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who believes the government was behind the 9/11 (and that Newtown was “completely fake”), and Breitbart’s Milo Yiannopoulos, whose racism and bigotry is so egregious that Twitter banned him from using their site.
This is horrifying.
What can I do?

It took no time at all for the Internet to respond. In this image, a Pepe version of the Clinton page reverses the situation. Here, Pepe The Frog explains that Hillary Clinton's "H" logo is a symbol for Islamic Terrorism, as it depicts two planes flying through the World Trade Center. For Pepe fans, this is just as plausible as Pepe being a symbol of white supremacy. In other words: one hundred percent never, never, never, not at all.

Just curious who else is in the photo behind her?
This is horrifying.
What can I do?
(Ends on a Pepe the Frog Trump image)

image from

Back in the "Vote as if your life depended on it," days, you had one chance to resonate. Now, candidates like Trump can do it on a daily basis. And while the official Trump campaign uses more traditional attack ads in paid media space, the real news headlines are coming from earned media. Social media. CNN reported on the "white supremacy" frog, and soon most mainstream media followed, without bothering to research the meme's origin.

And such is the internet 2016 that now The Pepe The frog Wikipedia Page is having an edit war on their hands where editors are debating whether to insert the "white supremacy" new history of Pepe. In other words, history isn't being written by the winner any more, but by who has the biggest agenda. And Wikipedia is the center journalists go to for their research.

In a war between internet memes and mainstream media, who do you think will win?

Comments (4)

  • Shitposter Esquire's picture
    Shitposter Esquire (not verified)

    I tried to post exactly this, but the spam filter thinks I'm a robot.

    Oh well. Yours is much more comprehensive anyway.

    Sep 14, 2016
  • PoPo's picture
    PoPo (not verified)

    I'm glad I didn't wind up investing that 10k into rare Pepe t-shirts and coffee mugs to turn around and sell to the kids.

    Sep 14, 2016
  • Dabitch's picture

    @Amphebianlesbian regarding your extensive link-dump. I've cleaned it up by adding HTML so that it's easier to read.

    Whenever I read an article that quotes a "Twitter used named X", I assume that the author has been trolled. Like the "Marie Christmas" situation i described in "The trouble with Twitter - Trolls...", it's just too easy for a random user to get the attention of a journalist and then never prove who they are. Parody accounts pretending to be X are a dime a dozen, with Godfrey Elfwick being a great example of a random Twitter user who keeps getting embedded into articles as if s/he is serious. A person on a flight can misrepresent a situation - "X is being taken off flight because Y (muslim/black/breastfeeding take your pick)" - with a poor image, and suddenly a global brand has to address hundreds of news articles to fight an accusation. One could start a protection racket with the right twitter accounts, "Nice brand you have there, would be a shame if I start trashing it on social media...."

    With the case of Marie Christmas, at least some journalists were going the correct route and asking for verification of who the person was. Others dove deep into the timeline and saw it as "trolly". The problem is that journalists deadlines are now "two hours ago" by default, and this step is often skipped because other outlets are going ahead. That is how AP quoted a random twitter troll as if they had been an eyewitness to the San Bernardino attack.

    Sep 15, 2016

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about the author

Dabitch Creative Director, CEO, hell-raising sweetheart and editor of Adland. Globetrotting Swede who has lived and worked in New York, London, San Francisco, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Stockholm.