First rule of Brand Fight Club: Be authentic

Why it's time for brands to take off the gloves and sharpen the bantering skills of their social media teams.

Brands have long used social media to showcase their quick wit and creativity via real-time marketing around world events or trends. But some brands are finding a new way to engage Millennial consumers on social: spontaneously picking fights with competitors, publicly.

Take, for instance, a recent Twitter brawl between Burger King and Wendy’s. Burger King initiated it, by trying to one-up Wendy’s meal deal. But the latter won the spat by proclaiming it would be fighting back with "edible food."

Wendy’s emerged victorious, but the duel benefitted both brands by humanizing them. The veils were removed from their stiff marketing slogans to reveal authentic, off-the-cuff personality.

Earned media coverage was off the charts, with outlets including CNN, Fox News, US Weekly, Huffington Post, Mashable, MTV, Cosmopolitan, BuzzFeed, and Uproxx picking up the story.

Banter is also a sneaky way for brands to capture share of voice on social media and engage consumers. The Wendy’s/Burger King clash elicited an emotional response from fans, with some finding the incident entertaining, shocking, funny, or even offensive. Wendy’s comeback alone garnered 25,826 retweets and 33,290 likes by press time.

The situation also gave brands the opportunity to directly hear from and respond to haters and fans alike on social media.

Brands acknowledging each other on social media draw worldwide attention, and if you think you can ignore a competitor or opt out of a public conversation, you’re mistaken.

Last year, Burger King extended an olive branch to its rival McDonald's, proposing the two come together to create a McWhopper burger for International Day of Peace.

McDonald’s global CEO Steve Easterbrook rejected the advance via an open letter on Facebook and told Burger King "a simple phone call will do next time."

McDonald’s looked like a Debbie Downer and the ordeal begged the question: Why did the chain want to take the conversation offline?

It didn’t help McDonald’s image when Denny’s, Krystal, Wayback Burgers, and Giraffas responded on social saying they were game for the Peace Day Burger movement.

Whoever starts a conversation on social automatically has the upper hand, but if brands want to be extra sly, and fair, they can always call competitors beforehand and work together to "design" a social media fight as an ad campaign benefitting both parties. It must, however, look authentic.

Maybe it’s time for brands to take off the gloves and sharpen the bantering skills of their social media teams. Just keep it classy.

Diana Bradley is senior reporter at PRWeek. She can be contacted at diana.bradley@prweek.com.

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