How to Turn a Joke into a Brand Building Opportunity

Long gone are the days when gossip magazines and subtle jabs on late night TV reigned supreme in the arena of celeb fights. With the help of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, famous feuds have gained even more steam and, of course, let stars share their most intimate thoughts online.

From mean and hurtful...

Amanda Bynes to Rihanna on Twitter:

Chris Brown beat you because you’re not pretty enough

Rihanna’s response: "Ya see what happens when they cancel Intervention?" BOOM!

From Pink:

“I can see that some of you are concerned about me from your comments about my (heavier) weight.....I feel beautiful...please don’t worry about me...I am perfectly fine, perfectly happy, and my healthy, voluptuous and crazy strong body is having some much deserved time, cheesecake.”

But what about brands? Can “feuds” ever be strategic? How snarky is snarky?

Smart Car

Smart Cars don’t necessarily have appeal among much of the population, most of whom prefer driving something a little bigger. The small size of these cars has made them the butt of jokes ever since they were first introduced. Rather than take offense, the company is pretty good at letting things slide. But, just this once, they decided to take on a stupid joke about their product. They proved they were paying attention, and actually transformed it into a brand win.


When Tesco sought out someone trying to make a joke at their expense, they decided to defend their brand in an extremely relatable way -- with a third-degree burn right out of the school yard. Tweeted by snarky Jay Feliipe: “Immediately turn off if a girl’s mobile network is Tesco mobile.” Tesco’s response? @JayFeliipe “Are you really in a position to be turning girls away?” Ouch. But Tesco ultimately made nice with Jay, sending him a care package complete with Dove Men toiletries (nice co-opt!) and a dating handbook.

People have started following Tesco specifically because of the guile they show in conversations with their ‘haters.’ How many cell phone companies do you follow? Probably only the one you use (if that -- how boring!). Tesco’s approach has allowed them to connect with a wider audience.

Discovery Channel

Discovery Channel sent out an innocent and informative tweet: “On average, emperor penguins grow to be 3.8 feet tall.” Pittsburgh Penguins tweeted back an innocent and informative tweet of their own: “The average Pittsburgh Penguin grows to be 6’1”. The not-so-innocent follow-up tweet by Discovery? “Our latest observations show no Penguin activity currently on ice in Pittsburgh. Where did they go?”

(Note: The Penguins had, only a few weeks earlier, been eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs.) Didn’t think that Discovery had it in them, and that may have been the whole point.

So what does this mean to marketers?
Brands, like people, shouldn’t (always) take themselves so seriously. Don’t be defensive. Always err on the side of self-confidence. And, ignore Amanda Bynes’ Tweets entirely.

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