Some Twitter users who opened their feeds on Wednesday morning might have noticed an odd trending hashtag: #LowSizzletonin. Paired with a blue x-ray image of a brain, reminiscent of drug packaging or the galaxy brain meme, the hashtag was promoted by fast food chain Applebee’s to encourage customers to “Get cured with Loaded Fajitas,” a new bacon-and-queso-laden product. With May being Mental Health Awareness month, people were not amused.
The backlash on Twitter was swift, and Applebee’s was forced to respond rapidly. “Low sizzletonin” is a play on low serotonin, a medical condition associated with depression, one of the most common mental disorders in the world; in the United States alone, an estimated 17.3 million adults experienced a depressive episode in 2017.
Depression underpinned by low serotonin is typically treated with a class of drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, though an imbalance of serotonin is not the only factor associated with depression.
Inverse has reached out to Applebee’s regarding this campaign and will update this article with their comments.
Twitter Decides Low Serotonin Is Not a Joke
According to Inverse’s analysis, the hashtag had potentially reached 163,000 individuals by 11:15 a.m. Eastern. The top influencer who mentioned it, @thomasfuchs, garnered some 63,750 impressions toward an angry response to the campaign that they retweeted; user @magsvisaggs, another top influencer, used it in an especially scathing tweet that had 49,900 impressions.
In response to the hashtag, one user wrote, “i have depression you need SSRIs to treat that, not fries or whatever”; another wrote that it is “very inconsiderate of people who actually struggle with low serotonin.”
Applebee’s Immediately Backtracks
As of the time of this article’s publication, the video is no longer available, and the campaign website, www.sizzletonin.com, redirects back to the main Applebee’s site.
The original video featured a man with “mood swings” whose “energy levels were at an all-time low.” He claimed, “I felt lost,” before his waiter recommended Loaded Fajitas. These are classic symptoms of depression, along with a range of others including difficulty concentrating, difficulty sleeping, appetite changes, and thoughts and attempts of death or suicide.
Medical Issues Don’t Make Good Jokes
Pointing out that this was not the first time a fast food company has made an epic health-related faux pas, one user drew a connection to Taco Bell’s “Taco Neck” controversy of 1997, in which NBA star Shaquille O’Neal suffers from a fictitious medical ailment caused by repeatedly bending his neck to eat tacos.
This fake illness also hit too close to home for some people. As SFGate reported at the time, “The 3,800-member National Spasmodic Torticollis Association has formally asked Taco Bell to modify its commercials to include an explanation of the disease.”
Unlike Applebee’s, Taco Bell did not modify the ad, and when one individual sent a letter detailing his concerns, he was assured by then-company president John Antioco that the ad was meant as a joke but was also sent “five $1 coupons to Taco Bell.” We have come a long way since then, but perhaps not far enough.