I published much of this week’s column initially on LinkedIn, as I couldn’t wait until today to share some thoughts on Netflix’s risqué Twitter post from last week: “what’s something you can say during sex but also when you manage a brand twitter account?”
A lot of the responses from other brands were hilarious, but those included too many that showed a complete disregard for their own brand identity. This needs to stop.
If a brand is going to be okay acting like a teenager (or social media-obsessed adult) trading its brand values for a cheap dopamine surge that accompanies thousands of likes on a fleeting post, the brand no longer stands for anything.
The worst offenders were family-friendly brands. There’s a big difference, or there should be, between the brand voices of Jägermeister and Jell-O. Brands shouldn’t sound, look, and act alike, even if they’re in the same category. This is Branding 101.
When I pick up a package of Kraft mac and cheese, for instance, I’m okay with them promoting unicorns and Disney movies on their packages. Yet I don’t want to worry about them quoting “Fifty Shades of Grey.” That’s why I was surprised to see this reply to Netflix from @kraftmacncheese: “Can take anywhere between 7-10 minutes.”
Or consider these offenders:
Pepsi: “We prefer it in the can.” (Bud Light has more business responding here and actually managed a tamer response: “Check out our new cans.”) (An aside: kudos to both of these brands for including punctuation, as most eschewed the formality).
Boston Market: “you’ve been waiting for this stuffing all year”
Mr. Peanut: “I need a nut”
Pop-Tarts: “Fill me up”
Kettle Brand Chips: “You can go elbow deep in me”. (This is one of the worst ones. Paqui Chips, which is a spicy brand in many senses of the word, also went graphic with “Don’t get it in your eyes”. I do not need to eat any potato chips for a while.)
KFC UK & Ireland: “This is a bucket made for sharing” (Good, because I just threw up in one.)
Outback Steakhouse: “We recommend medium. Firm with a warm pink center. 🥩” (I’ll pass on seeing the rejected tweets they had about a bloomin’ onion.)
And then there’s Petco, getting more than 60,000 likes for posting photos of pet toys that look like torture devices, saying, “We hope you enjoy these new toys!” (I empathize with @adeleee’s response: “omg Petco how am I supposed to buy any of those for a dog now”.)
Freeform’s participation made little sense, and its tweet made less sense: “You can call me whatever you want, as long as you don’t call me ABC Family” (That is most definitely not something you can say during sex, unless you’re looking to get your license revoked.)
Just for good measure, the award for strangest brand participation has to go to Burlington, as in the retailer formerly known as Burlington Coat Factory, which for some reason had to reply to DSW, Hulu, Groupon, Bed Bath & Beyond, Pop-Tarts, and Snickers. Weirder still, while all those responses were visible as of early December 8, but by late that night, the responses to Pop-Tarts and Snickers disappeared. Its response to Netflix, “There’s a style for everyone,” got all of 23 likes (as of three days after posting it). As of December 10, these were the only tweets from their Twitter account since late November. All of this makes me want to go to the Burlington Coat Factory (which it will ALWAYS be to me) on 6th Avenue, buy a knock-off Canada Goose jacket for way less than the original but way too much for a knock-off, and give their whole communications team a very warm hug that would have been even warmer if I had just paid for the actual Canada Goose jacket.
Pardon the digression. I was so rattled by investigating Burlington’s account that I was craving comfort food like Outback, Kettle Chips, or Pop-Tarts, but then I remembered what those brands posted, and I will not be eating for quite a while.
Back to the issue at hand:
There’s an art to not responding and to sitting on the sidelines. Consider Jell-O, a brand I did a bit of work on in the past. You know what a lot of people search for and talk about regarding the brand? Jell-O shots. You know what the brand never talked about? Exactly. They were taking money off the table by not promoting one of the most popular uses of their products, but what was more important was prioritizing the brand’s family-friendly image. They picked a lane. And no, they did not respond to Netflix (much to my relief).
Not every brand needs to hold back in such situations. Penguin Random House publishes a wide range of books for different audiences, so they responded, “I’m going to be doing this in bed all weekend.” (I responded, “So relieved you went with a reading reference and nothing about a penguin” — this alone got 230 likes, or 10 times Burlington’s response to Netflix.)
Arby’s, which benefited from its brand becoming a meme (a rare achievement), responded, “Do you want more meat?” Netflix fired back, “Ma’am, this is a Netflix.” That’s Twitter gold.
Some others were surprisingly savvy. I liked England’s blood drive service (@GiveBloodNHS) chiming in with, “It’s just a little prick.” @Niallneilnail with all of 6 followers said, “I laughed. Then I signed up to donate,” and more than 7,000 people liked his response. Go NHS, and cheers to you, Niall.
I’m torn on Motorola US: “Unfolds to the best 6.2″ you ever had.” For a brand with massive awareness that is struggling with product traction, it’s not the worst way to let people know they have a product meant for big hands.
So many of the other brands would have been better to sit this out. One-off compromises dilute a brand’s value over time. The brand’s identity becomes cloudier. And then soon they just try to compete with the most popular brands in any category just for the fleeting social media glory and maybe a slide in the social media manager’s portfolio when he or she applies for a job at Arby’s.
Maybe you think I should just Netflix and Chill. If you’re a brand that stands for everything though, you stand for nothing. If you have no standards with your voice, it’s a signal to everyone involved with that brand that there are no standards. I’d also bet that many of the wholesome brands publicly responding to Netflix will be the first to raise hell if a display ad of theirs appears as remnant inventory on some adult website.
Brand identity matters. It’s what separates brands from commodities. Brands have enough struggles staying relevant today, but instead of pursuing cheap thrills, they need to be proud of what they are and uphold their standards consistently.
Otherwise, you might as well just Disney+ and chill.
What do you make of all of this? And what are you making of yourself?
PS: Thanks to all the responses on vendors vs. partners last week. There’s so much more to share here, and we can tackle it further in other issues. Meanwhile, read Valeria’s article below. To those who demonstrated how you are indeed partners, that’s why I called partners narwhals instead of unicorns. It’s great connecting with all the narwhals, tardigrades, grey crowned cranes, and other marvelous creatures among you.
This column was originally published in the newsletter. While I share the introductory column here, other updates such as jobs, events, and commentary on news are exclusively available to subscribers. Sign up now to make sure you receive it.