In marketing – no matter whether it’s via email, social media, our website, billboards, or television – one of the biggest struggles we face is striving to come across as authentic. The Sprite marketing team recognized this when they created their advertisement. They know Sprite’s target audience is the young and trendy crowd, and so they wanted the ad to be “hip”. However, they also know how celebrity-endorsed advertising can appear to wised-up young viewers.
Therefore, instead of just ploughing ahead with the tired formula of a famous face unconvincingly insisting they really do love the product they’re holding, Sprite flipped things on its head. With a knowing smile and a wink, they acknowledged the inherent weirdness in celebrity endorsement – and perhaps even in advertising in general – whilst keeping the casual, fun nature of their “Wanna Sprite?” brand intact.
Compare Sprite’s approach to that of online travel agents Airbnb. When hit for a massive tax bill by the city of San Francisco, Airbnb responded with a strange, passive-aggressive, and more than a little sarcastic billboard and poster campaign, offering suggestions on how the city may like to spend all the extra money.
The response from social media didn’t go the way it can only be assumed Airbnb had hoped – and the posters were eventually removed, after an official apology from the company. Whilst the Sprite campaign had gotten the flippancy balance right by having a laugh at some marketing clichés while still holding true to their brand and goals, Airbnb managed to completely undermine their brand while achieving little else.
Indeed, it turns out that regular tax-paying people don’t have an awful lot of sympathy for large corporations throwing a tantrum over having to pay their taxes, and are more than happy to make their feelings known.
This is particularly true of the millennial generation. According to research conducted by Sprout Social, 56% of millennials have taken the action of actively “calling out” brands for perceived faux pas or other “misbehavior” on social media. A smaller percentage (39%) of survey respondents from previous generations said they had taken the same course of action.
Calling brands out
What this indicates is that, whilst the behaviour of previous generations is important, it is ultimately millennial activity that’s likely to continue into the future, meaning that we can expect more “brand callouts” as the years go by.
Marketers need to take note of this trend. If your brand is too snarky in its marketing efforts, it’s becoming more and more likely that you will suffer a social media backlash as a result. And, as seen from the case of Airbnb, there really is such a thing as bad publicity.
What do customers want?
Let’s take another look at the Sprout Social research.
Whilst nearly three-quarters of customers appreciate a little humor from brands, they rate honesty, friendliness, and helpfulness as higher priorities. Snarky behavior is rated lowest, with only a third of customers saying they like it from a brand.
To be fair, it’s been quite well-documented that burger chain Wendy’s has in fact had some recent success with sass. In response to some beef from a Twitter troll earlier this year, whoever was in charge of the Wendy’s Twitter account took the provocateur to school over their comments. The troll was trying to discredit Wendy’s quality of ingredients and meat-storing processes, directly responding to a tweet from Wendy’s where the company claimed its “beef was way to cool to ever be frozen.”
The spat escalated when the troll decided to insinuate that there was no way anyone could ever believe that Wendy’s beef wasn’t frozen, because there’s no other way to store such meat before it’s cooked. Thuggy-D, as the Twitter user called him- or herself, eventually said that Wendy’s should just “give up”, and that “McDonald’s got you guys beat with that bomb ass breakfast.”
Wendy’s reply was genius.
Twitter was impressed with Wendy’s sassiness. In fact, on that day (Jan 3, 2017), more people began trolling Wendy’s just so they could experience a bit of the burger chain’s newfound penchant for sarcasm themselves.
However, while this is all very good fun, we should be careful to note that this little event is something of an exception rather than the rule of how you are supposed to behave online. The Thuggy-D troll’s remarks followed by Wendy’s witty repartee sparked off a special moment on Twitter, and Wendy’s came out on the right side of general opinion.
Nevertheless, while it’s all well and good reading an online article amalgamating all of Wendy’s snarky responses to its customers and having a laugh about it, imagine you had a genuine grievance with the company and all you got in return was a load of salt (and I don’t mean on your French fries). You’d probably walk away from that interaction feeling pretty disappointed, and are likely to make the decision not to use that business again. It may be that with over 6,500 locations worldwide, Wendy’s isn’t too concerned with losing the odd customer. However, for a small business it could be devastating.
It all boils down to knowing your audience. If being funny and cool is appropriate for your brand, then there’s nothing wrong with injecting your marketing efforts with a little sarcasm – as long as it’s with a nudge and a wink. However, it’s equally true that if flippancy doesn’t fit, there’s nothing wrong with talking straight and keeping things more serious.
What you don’t want to do is miss the mark and gain a reputation as someone who doesn’t care about the problems of their customers, or simply doesn’t understand their customers. However, if you get it right like Sprite did, you can have a little fun with your audience without insulting or offending them.
Over to you
The perils of snarkiness are not limited to social media. It’s very easy, when creating content of any type, to fall into the habit of treating your subject matter with flippancy. Again, a little humour is fine, but don’t treat your subject matter as if it’s not important, or you may come off as contemptuous. Remember, the people reading your content are likely to be working in a related industry, and aren’t likely to be appreciative of you treating their career choices with disdain.
Do you have any tales of snark-infested marketing waters you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments below.