Brand banter: step back and ask – ‘Why?'

I need to be upfront about my point of view on banter between brands.

Alex Clough: 'If you’ve nothing to say, and don’t know why you’re saying it – stay quiet'
Alex Clough: 'If you’ve nothing to say, and don’t know why you’re saying it – stay quiet'

Nine times out of 10, I hate it – and not just because it’s painful to watch, but because it’s usually ineffective and pointless.

That said, a handful of brands have had some good moments. Paddy Power. Specsavers. Marmite. Greggs. Supermarkets firing shots. Fast food brands calling each other out.

They aren’t successful because of the likes on a reply, though. Success comes when their activity travels beyond and into wider culture. Tactical, reactive moments that become national talking points, news stories and, occasionally, watershed moments in culture.

Being unexpectedly funny is critical, but it’s hard to do well – and I’d argue still rarely has much brand benefit unless it becomes a bigger story.

If you are blessed with one of these rare moments and your social brand banter becomes a cultural talking point, congratulations. You probably got lucky, even if you then brilliantly seized the moment. You are the exception, not the rule.

The problem with exceptions is that people convince themselves they can be an exception too.

This is brand banter at its worst and, sadly, makes the bulk of what I see. Contrived, try-hard, echo-chamber nonsense that is easily ignored because they haven’t asked themselves the key questions: why are we doing this, and why should anyone care?

Sometimes it’s so terrible it goes viral for the wrong reasons – like Meta publicly messaging brands about their role in the metaverse. The tweet to Balenciaga was a low point.

I’ve looked through numerous examples while writing this and concluded there are essentially three roles brands play in the ‘brand banter’ construct.

There’s the brand that innocently creates an idea that attracts some attention. Maybe it even tagged another brand because of product relevance or broader partnership – nothing wrong with that. If other brands reply, chasing likes, be wary about getting into a back-and-forth. They’re not doing it for the benefit of you or your audience.

Then there are ‘reply brands’. If they have something genuinely funny to say, they might get lucky, but if it’s just in social they’ll probably be soon forgotten. The majority desperately wade in without anything interesting to say, doing more damage than they realise.

Who beyond our industry remembers any of the brands that replied to Heinz and Weetabix? And that is regarded as a good example.

By far the most offensive is the brazenly orchestrated social banter, arranged ahead of time to set up an exchange about something self-serving. One starts it, another replies, and so on. People can see through it – marketers and consumers alike. Seriously, what's the aim here?

Brand banter might sometimes crack a fleeting smile, or occasionally live way beyond social and help build the brand. But, as with most things, if you’ve nothing to say, and don’t know why you’re saying it – stay quiet.

Alex Clough is creative strategy director at Splendid Communications

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