“Sorry to hear that. Please send us a direct message and we’d be happy to assist you.” For the majority of brands, this is what customer service on social media looks like. Polite, respectful, and helpful.
But not for every brand.
Businesses now use their social handles to deliver sharp wit, make clever jokes, and throw shade.
While having a sense of humor is important, there is a line. And crossing it can have consequences. Just ask the folks at Hawke and Co.
Still, several brands have been unable to pass up on opportunities for a good burn. In the following 10 situations, it paid off.
Be safe out there.
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1. Tesco Mobile tells a hard truth
Tesco Mobile, a UK-based mobile network, is probably one of the sassiest brands on Twitter. They’ve earned a reputation for handing out some vicious burns, to the delight of their nearly 80,000 followers.
It was hard to choose the best Tesco Mobile burn. There are a lot of them. But this one stands out due to its reach.
— Tesco Mobile (@tescomobile) June 30, 2013
Over 11,000 retweets and over 7,000 favorites should be enough to convince you that Tesco has the Twitter burn down to a science. They didn’t pick someone complaining about their product or customer service. They sought out someone trying to make a joke at their expense, and decided to defend their brand in an extremely relatable way: with a third degree burn right out of the school yard.
People have started following Tesco specifically because of the guile they show in conversations with their “haters.”
How many phone companies do you follow? Probably only the one you use. Tesco’s approach has allowed them to connect with a wider audience, including many non-clients. I couldn’t resist, here’s another one.
Call the fire department!
2. Wendy’s roasts a customer
The fast food chain made headlines when it delivered an epic comeback to a customer who accused them of lying about their “never frozen beef.”
if you're having a bad day today, just remember that you didn't get dragged by a fast food company on twitter pic.twitter.com/gUSuHwZLQR
— ΓRΛX (@Fraxtil) January 2, 2017
Since then, Wendy has continued to provide giggles on an ongoing basis. The burger joint has earned a reputation for handing out vicious burns—much to the delight of their 1.51 million strong—and growing—Twitter fanbase.
@ceophono No, your opinion is though.
— Wendy's (@Wendys) January 3, 2017
With some tweets getting upwards of 10,000 retweets and 30,000 likes, Wendy’s is definitely getting noticed for their risky comebacks.
3. Discovery Channel teaches the Penguins a lesson
How did a simple tweet from the Discovery Channel turn into an awesome burn lauded by hockey fans? It all comes down to the innocent penguin.
In 2015 Discovery sent out a tweet on the average height of the emperor penguin.
— Discovery (@Discovery) May 13, 2015
The Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team saw it as an opportunity to maybe spark some interesting social media conversations. They responded with a tweet of their own, on the average height of a Pittsburgh Penguin. Clever… except in retrospect, since it lead to this amazing comeback.
A little context: the Penguins had, only a few weeks earlier, been eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs. Maybe Discovery’s social media manager is a hockey fan of a different breed? Either way, a network that is known for providing educational programming definitely taught the Penguins a lesson.
And it paid off to the tune of 31,000 retweets and 34,000 favorites.
4. #DearEverlane hashtag sheds light on the consumer experience
Everlane’s hashtag #DearEverlane encourages customers to share questions, concerns, and brand experiences online. Everlane then takes to social media to showcase some of their best interactions:
In a specific #DearEverlane post, “Rupert” decided to call the clothing company out on the value of its products:
Dear Rupert, One sweater does cost us $57 to make; when you use natural fibers and invest in quality, it costs real money. But that’s not the ridiculous part. The ridiculous part is that other brands have a similar cost but mark their prices up so much more. Maybe they need the brain scans. Know your costs, Everlane #DearEverlane
Instead of burying the negative feedback, the clothing brand presented Rupert’s commentary on their Instagram account.
The retailer fired back with a smart explanation as to why their sweaters cost as much as they do—as well as referencing Rupert’s snarky suggestion to “get a brain scan performed.”
#DearEverlane opens dialogue on social media and gives the brand an opportunity to address topics off all kinds—the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s also another great example of using hashtags to drive engagement.
5. Smart Car proves how smart it really is
Smart cars don’t appeal to folks who 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.
‘Oh our cars can be destroyed by bird poop can they? Maybe they can, but it would take 45,000 emus to make it happen. You and your joke have just been scienced. Good day.’
This isn’t so much a traditional burn as it is a mic drop moment. They took a joke made at their expense, proved they were paying attention, and actually transformed it into a brand win. If there was a tweet in this list that you might actually want to mimic, this would be the one.
6. Totino’s responds to S.N.L.’s Super Bowl skit
If there’s one Super Bowl commercial that is sure to delight every year, it’s Saturday Night Live’s Totino’s pizza roll skit.
The parody Totino’s Super Bowl ad sheds light on gender stereotypes when it comes to football. The main character is a Stepford Wives-inspired housewife who plays clueless about the game and gets ordered around at her husband’s Super Bowl viewing party.
Every year has been pretty spectacular, but 2017’s skit received significant amounts of buzz when Kristen Stewart and Vanessa Bayer fell in love on-screen.
When it came time for Totino’s to respond, they came back with a couple of cheeky but perfect retorts.
*watches new @nbcsnl*
*sees another Totino’s parody ad*
*sighs, logs in to work email for the next 12 hours*
— Pete Zaroll (@totinos) February 5, 2017
— Pete Zaroll (@totinos) February 5, 2017
7. DiGiorno Pizza with the smooth delivery
Rapper Iggy Azalea made headlines on Grammy night in 2015, not for her award nominations, but for a Twitter battle with Papa John’s restaurant.
Iggy ordered a pizza and the restaurant employee who delivered it distributed her information to their family member, who proceeded to send Iggy unwanted texts. Iggy was less than pleased, with both the texts and the response of a Papa John’s manager, and she spread that displeasure on Twitter.
This was a potential PR nightmare for Papa John’s, which apologized and did their best to address the situation on Twitter. Another brand saw the situation in a different light, however, and rushed in to take advantage.
@DiGiornoPizza I know right!
— IGGY AZALEA (@IGGYAZALEA) February 9, 2015
DiGiorno Pizza is a maker of frozen pizzas that uses the tagline “It’s not delivery, it’s DiGiorno.” The entire situation was a perfect match for their value proposition, and their generally casual and humorous approach to Twitter. Their tweet was simple but effective, and took advantage of a competitor’s screw-up (smh means “shake my head,” for the record). By entering the conversation, DiGiorno ended up with a quasi-endorsement from a famous rapper. One brand’s nightmare is another’s dream.
8. Arby’s embraces their enemies
In the midst of a rebrand, Arby’s decided to come back with a little more bite.
The Daily Show With Jon Stewart had been making fun of the fast food chain for years, with jokes questioning their food’s edibility. “It’s like a shock and awe for your bowels,” the comedian once said.
— Arby's (@Arbys) August 6, 2015
When Stewart was about to end his hosting career, Arby’s took the opportunity to respond after years of being mocked. The fast food chain produced a farewell commercial called “Jon Voyage,” featuring a montage of Stewart’s harshest slights combined with the Golden Girls’ theme song “Thank You For Being A Friend.”
This was followed by a few clever quips to Stewart on the Arby’s Twitter handle.
Jon, feel free to reach out to us at email@example.com.
— Arby's (@Arbys) February 11, 2015
Well said, Arby’s.
9. Taco Bell adds a little spice
Taco Bell is known to be one of the most entertaining and humorous brands on social media. Their target audience is fairly young, making them the perfect target for funny, risky content. When Old Spice, another brand who doesn’t shy away from humor, presented them with the following opportunity, they were sure to take it.
Old Spice threw it up, and Taco Bell hit it out of the park. This tweet is the perfect burn. It doesn’t take down the brand, just the tweet in question. It makes you smile without ever feeling at all malicious.
Brand on brand burns are far less risky, since no clients are involved. They’re usually far more beneficial as well, since they benefit from the substantial network of both businesses. Case and point: RedBull tried to join in on this duel after the fact (though, in this case, it was uninspired).
— Red Bull (@redbull) July 12, 2012
10. Old Spice with the tough love
Since, as mentioned, Old Spice is another brand that embraces humor and risky tweets, they’ve also earned their spot on this list. Old Spice does a great job of throwing not-so-subtle jabs at followers and fans, especially those who send them weird tweets. Like poor old Sunil here.
In this case, the Twitter user sent something weird and off-beat, so Old Spice felt comfortable responding in a similar way. The burn is playful, not insulting, that’s a pretty good description of their Twitter presence in general. If you’re going to burn someone, burn someone who is asking for the burn… maybe even hoping for it.
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This is an updated version of a post originally published in June 2015.