how does your brand respond to parody

Brand personality: how does your brand respond to parody?

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Talk by Starbucks this week of “next steps” following a Comedy Central prank that parodied their name raises the question of what should brands do when the borax is poked?

Aaron Perlut’s piece from a couple of years back on how GE chose to respond to The Yes Men laid out two simple strategies. The first one was pretty much what you’d expect: Acknowledge the spoof, clarify, and then ask everyone to move on. This, as he says, is a standard corporate response. It’s not particularly inspiring but it’s functional.

His second suggestion was more ambitious: Take on the mockers with a parody of your own. In fact, Perlut says, such a move may even give rise to an opportunity – “if executed well — tastefully reversing the parody can serve as a means to connect with new audiences that may have previously looked negatively at the brand or company.”

The third option of course is just to ignore the whole thing.

A personality test for corporate brands

It’s curious to me that brands are very much instilled in our culture yet often retain a stiff and business-like approach to interacting with that wider culture. Having spent huge sums to be perceived as friendly and customer facing, their responses when the spotlight is thrust upon them in situations that they don’t control can be awkward, strait-laced and lacking in the very humanity they seek to cultivate. They seem to struggle with being approachable when they are not the ones doing the approaching. They want interaction, but only on their terms. As Rohit Bhargava put it so well, they reveal themselves as entities with Personality Not Included.

Jest is really just another interaction. Often, it warrants no more than a reply.

Behind their corporate windows, brands worry that slights on their trademarks and IP have reputational repercussions. The words “dangerous” and “precedent” get an extended airing by those who went to law school. But executive concerns should perhaps be tempered in today’s high-share media environment by the thought that consumers are looking for something to talk about and that parody is often little more than momentary fun. Unless the barb addresses a specific corporate action that will generate, or has already generated, deep ill-will, media scrutiny or consumer boycotts, it is very unlikely to jeopardise their overall brand equity and their response should reflect this.

So depending on the nature of the jibe, in most cases I’d plumb for strategies two or three. And if I was looking to strategy two, I’d absolutely be using social media to do it. Just like these brands did.

Act fast.

Act smart.

Act human.

Mitigate, don’t litigate.

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