“It’s not the heat that’ll get you, it’s the humidity.” Such are the words of wisdom spoken by Rand, an American suburban white man in his 50s, and a recurring character on the Middle Class Fancy Instagram account. In addition to being an accurate statement about how we perceive temperature, it also serves as a little window into middle-class life in the 2000s and how it looked, sounded, and felt.
In addition to being a funny meme account on Instagram, Middle Class Fancy has a lot to teach us about class and consumer behavior. Not that this should come as a surprise, of course – it’s in the name. Astute observers will also notice that Middle Class Fancy’s logo is a clear reference to the popular restaurant chain, Chili’s.
But I’m not content to simply laugh at Middle Class Fancy and its goodhearted, gentle roasting of well-to-do white baby boomers. The fact that Middle Class Fancy can name-drop so many brands for a laugh is really remarkable. It tells you something about how brands build relationships with their customers, and how customer preferences can become part of customers’ identities.
If you run a small business, you might aspire to create “the product that will make millions.” These superficially silly memes can, among other things, tell us what it looks like when products actually make millions, but in the most boring way possible. Why do we get a laugh out of a meme depicting a mom who is proud of her Subaru parked outside of an Applebee’s? Why do we get a laugh out of the dad who wants to open an ice-cold Bud Light while grilling Kirkland Signature steaks on his George Foreman Grill?
These are the things I really want to know, so let’s talk about what makes Middle Class Fancy tick. Or, as Rand might put it, “let’s rock and roll.”
What is Middle Class Fancy?
I mentioned that Middle Class Fancy is a meme account on Instagram, but there’s a little more to it than that. They also have a Twitter, and, in fact, run a bunch of different accounts, including Rad Dad, Neat Mom, and Animals Doing Things.
Middle Class Fancy is the brainchild of Doing Things Media, which is a very clever content and branding agency based in Atlanta. The company was founded in 2017 by Reed Hailey and Derek Lucas, both of whom are now in their early 30s. In their cinematic universe of brands, there are at least 20, some of which you will no doubt recognize, like T-Mobile, McDonald’s, Procter & Gamble, Netflix, and Dole (yes, the banana company).
Middle Class Fancy itself, as a standalone brand, sells a bunch of apparel, and even a board game. Suffice it to say, this silly meme Instagram seems, by all accounts, to be a profitable enterprise for its creators.
Now normally, finding out that memes are being made by a company and not individuals sucks the fun right out of it. But I don’t think that’s the case with Middle Class Fancy. Somehow the fact that they can profit from their jokes makes the droll observational humor funnier, at least in my opinion.
One thing that is definitely sure is that Middle Class Fancy is not being made on accident by some kids. It adheres to at least loose brand guidelines and has to stay on-message. So what exactly is the message?
What is Middle Class Fancy about?
“I was initially tagged in an old post and was hooked,” says a follower named Travis (@tankwilliams_jr on Instagram). The self-described “conservative (moderate on social issues), suburban father and trophy bass hunter” said over DM that “growing up upper middle class, all these memes hit home for me and they’re hilarious.”The Meme Illuminati: Behind Instagram’s Comedy Empire, Molly Beauchemin
Middle Class Fancy doesn’t pick a side. It simply describes people as they are. The creators of the account have simply set out to relay their memories of their childhood and teen years by making observational comedy. Whereas Karens are mean, Rands and Nances are neutral, except perhaps, for Rand’s desire to mow the lawn at 6:57 am.
Because Middle Class Fancy is essentially wringing humor out of slices of life, it’s easier to talk about recurring themes than it is a unifying message.
Nance & Rand
Nance and Rand are recurring characters in Middle Class Fancy. Nance is a suburban mom who loves her margaritas, and encourages people to “live, laugh, love” with the sign in her kitchen. Rand is a big fan of grilling and lawn maintenance. He calls his son names like “champ” and definitely has some well broken-in sneakers.
What’s wild about this is how relatable these characters are despite the jokes seeming super-specific. My wife and I grew up in totally different regions of the US and on different ends of the absurdly wide “middle class” spectrum. And yet we can both see both of our parents reflected in Nance & Rand.
Low stakes suburban life
A middle-class family in the US, as of 2018, just to give you some perspective, made between $48,500 and $145,000 per year. That’s an absurdly wide range. At the low end, you would be living paycheck to paycheck, locked out of the housing market, and likely struggling to make ends meet. At the high end, you could afford to live in a major metropolitan area and buy organic food, save up for retirement, and generally sleep well at night.
Honestly, the schism between the lower and upper-middle class was massively inflamed by the Global Financial Crisis starting in 2008. But when you realize Middle Class Fancy has come unstuck in time somewhere around 2005, things start to make a bit more sense.
In the early to mid-2000s, most people in that massively wide range called the middle class had two things in common. They experienced stability and predictability. You can see this reflected in the general low-stakes suburban life depicted by Middle Class Fancy. It’s in banal office chatter, silly selfies, an obsession with lawn maintenance, and a desire to go get fajitas.
This is quite a contrast when you realize just how much of meme culture in the late 2010s and early 2020s is based on discontent, political animus, and a desire for revolution. Middle Class Fancy depicts a sort of easy affluent petit-bourgeois lifestyle that really stands out among other memes today (and seems, sadly, a bit anachronistic).
Lightly roasting boomers and wealthy millennials
Middle Class Fancy isn’t a particularly judgmental meme page, but I’d argue that some of their observations are very gentle roasts. For example, Middle Class Fancy name-checks “white girls” who have to “go to Nashville for their bachelorette trip [or] they literally die.” And, indeed, this does describe a very clear “type” of person that exists in the world. Likewise, if you grew up middle class, you probably do know someone who “splurged” on something really trivial after getting their tax refund.
Name-checking real-world brands
And here we are: the raison d’être of this entire post. The modern middle class is less of an actual category that can be defined by household income and more of a category that can be defined by “economic predictability and stability.” Because that feeling of stability and predictability is so essential “middle-classness,” we see consumer behavior patterns that line up with these feelings.
You know New Balance sneakers are going to be comfortable. Chili’s and Applebee’s taste the same no matter where you are in America. A North Face jacket is always comfortable and never too terribly expensive. Costco will always have bulk items for good prices. Subaru will always hit that perfect note between reliability and adventuresomeness.
That’s a large part of why these brands have product-market fit with their middle-class consumers. That’s why they can say things like “[s]he’s the kind of person who [goes to Chili’s / has a North Face jacket / drives a Subaru]” and it be a coherent thought that other people can understand.
Middle Class Fancy name-checks boring brands and we laugh. But don’t dismiss the brands.
Every brand that Middle Class Fancy name-checks is doing well. They’re all rolling in money, despite not necessarily being the most interesting businesses. Yet they succeed in large part because they’re a part of the fabric of middle-class life.
Yes, the middle-class is not what it used to be, but the “comfortable, predictable, stable” class still encompasses a lot of people in the United States. Collectively these folks make up a powerful socioeconomic group that tends to make decisions based on what they know works.
You might think stability and predictability come with sheer age, but that’s not necessarily true. The North Face and Subaru of America were started in 1968. Chili’s is from 1975. Applebee’s is from 1980. Costco is from 1983.
The real power of these companies, and other middle-class mainstays, is that they have a few things in common:
- Quality is remarkably similar no matter where you go and what you buy from these companies.
- All of these companies go out of their way to welcome as many people as possible.
- None of these companies are the cheapest around, and none of them are the most expensive option either.
How is all this relevant to small business marketing?
If you’re looking to target the comfortable, stable, suburban middle class, then read Middle Class Fancy. It will give you some insights that most marketing research just can’t give you. It does an excellent job of capturing the “vibe” of your target market.
But if your target audience doesn’t intersect with the people depicted in Middle Class Fancy, there’s still a lesson here. You need to know your customers so well that you can understand their memes and jokes too. Often, the humor behind the memes and jokes tells us something about their likes and dislikes, fears, insecurities, and desires. If you don’t understand all the emotions under the surface, you can’t understand the jokes.
If you can understand your target audience’s jokes, then you are much more likely to be able to work with them and provide people with products they truly want.
And with that thought, I’ll be off. This lawn won’t mow itself, after all 😉