If you visited the Dota subreddit last week, you were likely confronted with a front page dominated by a near-endless stream of Mercedes-Benz memes. This sampling of posts and comments should give you an idea of how pervasive the company’s E-Class Sedan was on /r/Dota2 during ESL One Hamburg.
Here’s a comment thread that shows the meme operating at full power:
In the past, Dota players have spammed the Volvo subreddit every time Valve doesn’t deliver something on time. Valve, Volvo. They sound similar and at some point during the last decade of the internet, someone made a typo and it spawned a meme. Glorious.
Almost as glorious as the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class Sedan.
What’s up with all the Mercedes-Benz shitposts?
There are subreddits devoted to outing shill accounts on Reddit based off their post histories. Over time, companies have wised up and started purchasing older accounts with legitimate post histories and karma in order to camouflage their shill status. This is known.
If this kind of “organic” marketing is already happening on Reddit on a larger scale, why should we expect the Dota 2 subreddit be immune to it?
Sponsored content in media is on the upswing, as fewer people (especially Millennials) pay for cable TV and thus aren’t exposed to traditional commercials like in the 80s and 90s. Rick and Morty is an excellent example of this, and the show’s uptick in sponsored content is starting to alarm some fans. Visual media often deliberately alters product logos in order to avoid paying royalties or attracting unwanted legal attention – you see this in everything from old episodes of The Big Bang Theory to Tsukushima’s “SOMY” headphones in Haikyuu.
Parody or product placement?
During the time it took for me to outline this article last week, the Reddit Dota 2 Twitter account tweeted at least two Mercedes-related posts. Now, this Twitter account just features popular or rising posts, but you get the idea: suddenly, everyone was talking about a car that costs almost twice as much as the average American makes in a year.
Proud to be part of #ESLOne and the amazing @DOTA2 action!
Nearly as amazing as the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class Sedan, test drive it now! pic.twitter.com/CanAMwk4A6
— Mercedes-Benz (@MercedesBenz) October 29, 2017
Mercedes-Benz advertisements and logos already dominated the airtime during ESL One Hamburg. Combine this on-stream presence with the posts, shitposts, comments, comments on comments, Twitter posts, replies, and Twitch spam, and it’s clear that the advertising campaign was a massive success.
Put your tinfoil hats on for a minute. Mercedes had already agreed to sponsor ESL One, but they needed to be sure that everyone would be talking about their sponsorship. Think of it like companies competing for the most memorable commercial during the Super Bowl. They decide to either pay a social media firm or assign staff members to spam Mercedes-Benz copypasta on Reddit and Twitch chat. And thus, a meme is born.
Mercedes-Benz could have easily bought some karma-rich Reddit accounts several weeks ago in preparation for their sponsorship of ESL One and set them loose upon the unsuspecting internet.
Think back to the early days of The Summit. Everyone lampooned them for their number of sponsor commercials to the point where they created a Wayne’s World parody video in response. It’s one of the things that people remember most about The Summit.
It only takes a little nudge to set the meme snowball in motion. It wouldn’t be difficult (or even particularly expensive) for a company to repeatedly shitpost about their product until it reached meme status. If that’s the case, well played, Mercedes-Benz. You definitely got a lot of value out of your investment.
Will we ever know if the Mercedes-Benz meme was organically grown or carefully cultivated by a sly advertising department? Probably not. But the next time you go to Ctrl+V that copypasta, think about who is pulling the strings.