Last August, The Washington Post ran an article with one of my favorite headlines ever: “Why is millennial humor so weird?” The subtitle describes this meme-based style of humor as dark, surreal, and completely meaningless.
Yeah, pretty much.
For brands, this is probably a little worrisome.
Delivering those experiences becomes more of a challenge when your target demographic’s idea of funny is a photoshopped picture of Lord Farquaad from Shrek with the letter E layered on top.
Yes, you read that correctly. So far, the above image (and the others it has inspired) is one of the most viral memes of 2018. If you’re confused, don’t worry. I laugh every time I see it and I honestly have no idea why.
Meme marketing ‒ using viral humor to expand your brand visibility across social media – is a game of high risk and high reward. The risk: falling flat on your face in cringeworthy fashion.
Lazy, lazy, lazy. There’s nothing clever or nuanced going on here. Ruffles shoehorned a meme into this tweet and expected us to mindlessly react with Scrooge-style swan dives into pools filled with their chips. Rude!
The reward: appealing to a lot of young people who appreciate personable brands that don’t take things too seriously. Plus, a viral tweet is free advertising for your company.
Let’s take a look at some hilarious tweets from five of the funniest Twitter accounts out there: all millennial-approved companies that brilliantly use Twitter to build their brands and reach their audience.
Their restaurants are retro, but their social team knows what makes people laugh in 2018. Mixing absurdity and sadness, the tweets from @DennysDiner are hugely popular among people my age.
A common theme throughout the tweets featured in this blog post is brand self-awareness. Denny’s knows that they appeal to stoners, and they embrace it.
This is what Denny’s does best on Twitter: they find ways to incorporate their core products ‒ namely, pancakes ‒ into weird and hilarious contexts. Blending something as innocent as a pancake into a joke about loneliness is a guaranteed winner.
Pick a core product or service of yours and figure out how you can make it funny. So, if you sell office chairs, maybe suggest to your Twitter followers that they can use your product to sit near windows and brood about the imminence of climate change. Also, pay attention to the style Denny’s has established: they tweet as if the account represents a person rather than a huge corporate brand. You don’t need to take it to the extreme that they do, but it’s a good idea to create a Twitter tone that is more human than robot.
Whereas Denny’s relies on sadness to win over Twitter users, Wendy’s goes in a different direction: directly at the throat of its chief competitor, McDonald’s.
The fast food giant has found enormous success with its anti-arches brand, often lambasting Mickey D’s for its use of frozen beef and its infamously dysfunctional ice cream machines. In fact, consumers are so amused by @Wendys aggressive approach to social media marketing that the company released a 5-track mixtape, We Beefin?, in March.
Here, Wendy’s perfectly uses a popular joke format to both advertise their 4 for $4 deal and make fun of McDonald’s in every way possible. It’s trendy, funny, and effective.
This meme exploded in the weeks following the release of Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War. Once again, Wendy’s connects with their target consumers’ interests through humor while simultaneously doing what they do best: roasting McDonald’s.
Unlike Denny’s, @netflix doesn’t dedicate its entire Twitter presence to jokes; they’re pretty traditional most of the time. That being said, their social media team has a finger on the pulse when it comes to TV- and film-based memes. An up-to-date sense of humor is an excellent tool for any brand with a Twitter account, and it’s even more important when the brand is as popular among millennials as is Netflix.
Netflix nailed this one. They knew that the royal wedding would keep people glued to their phones even more than usual, making it a great day to go viral. And what’s the best way to go viral? Compare the royal couple to Shrek to Fiona.
This one requires a little more explanation, but it’s still an A+ tweet. beerbongs & bentleys is the newest album from Post Malone, a rapper who happens to look like Parks and Rec’s Ron Swanson with dreadlocks. Here, Netflix pokes fun at one of the most-streamed artists on Spotify and promotes an essential part of its TV Comedy offerings.
Far too many corporate Twitter accounts have swung and missed hard with tweets like this one. This winner from Netflix is especially good because it’s self-deprecating. High school TV dramas are some of the platform’s most popular content, and they’re not afraid to make fun of them.
Netflix does nothing crazy or out of the ordinary; they keep an eye on what their followers find funny and find ways to latch their service onto those trends. All you need to do is stay on top of cutting-edge humor. For example, the format of the tweet that makes fun of high school TV dramas is extremely flexible. Use that and other popular memes to poke fun at consumers or competitors. Most importantly, if you sense that your social team is not quite on top of the latest internet trends, tread carefully when it comes to jokes. Few things are more embarrassing for a brand than an outdated, tone-deaf attempt at trendy humor.
The key to the online success of the Mexican-inspired grill is simple: they know their market. @ChipotleTweets knows that we don’t put water in our water cups and that we do take their hot sauce. They know that our orders will never change and that non-sober people are their most enthusiastic customers. Most importantly, Chipotle knows that embracing these things, rather than rejecting them, helps build a loyal customer base.
These two tweets are great because they show a whole lot of that self-awareness I mentioned earlier. Chipotle could be lame and take a hard stance on customers stealing drinks and hot sauce. Instead, they’re getting in on the joke and turning a minor issue into a branding opportunity.
Self-awareness is key. Understand why your customers demand your product or service and make light of it. Then, find a balance of relatability and absurdity. Let’s say you install granite countertops for households. You could tweet something along the lines of: “When you want to cook but you hate your countertop and end up eating raw meat in the bathtub again.”
You can’t talk about Twitter branding without mentioning @MoonPie. I hadn’t the slightest clue what a MoonPie was until I starting seeing some of their tweets. Similar to Denny’s, the good people at MoonPie have garnered hundreds of thousands of followers by posting tweets that, frankly, don’t make any sense.
The product is a chocolatey marshmallow confection, yet the tweets read like the thoughts of a lonely, love-sick man deep in the throes of middle age. Punctuation is rare, and you can never be totally sure where a tweet is heading until you’ve read the final letter.
This takes a hard left turn, huh? It’s a processed marshmallow snack yearning for a human woman named Linda to return to him. Twitter users go nuts for stuff like this because it’s the complete opposite of what they expect from a corporate account. It doesn’t feel like marketing, yet it’s making the brand visible in an appealing way.
You’re probably confused, wondering why a brand would suggest that their product is for lonely, unhealthy people. I’ll tell you why: because that’s exactly what a brand is not supposed to do. They’re supposed to convince you that their products will make you cool and fun and happy (see: Coca-Cola ads). Instead, MoonPie is doing the opposite, and consumers appreciate it.
This is funny mostly because it’s ridiculous. Why would somebody antagonistically throw a MoonPie at another MoonPie? Twitter users are drawn to brand accounts that don’t take themselves even semi-seriously.
I know what you’re thinking: you can’t afford to go completely off the rails with your tweets. MoonPie benefits from the fact that people would continue to demand packaged desserts during a nuclear apocalypse; they don’t have to do that much selling. You, on the other hand, actually need to advertise to drive growth.
I suppose the Lesson of MoonPie (probable subtitle for Michael Bay’s Transformers 13) is this: don’t take your Twitter presence too seriously. Self-deprecation is universally funny, and it goes a long way if you can find a way to inject it into a tweet every once in a while. In fact, the WordStream blog perfectly exemplifies this idea. Our writers manage to provide sound, informed advice while simultaneously making jokes ‒ they recognize the world outside of paid search. Your followers will appreciate efforts to take a step back and contextualize your product or service in the broader picture of, uh, life.
Obviously, not all businesses can tweet like these five companies do. If you’re marketing primarily to businesses or people over the age of 30, or if you offer a serious, high-cost product or service, this humor probably isn’t gonna fly. However, if your brand targets young people, and you feel secure enough to take some risks with your Twitter presence, it can be hugely beneficial to learn from these tweets. Capturing the millennial sense of humor will differentiate your from your boring competitors and show prospects that you’re a brand they can trust. Plus, you can capitalize on the increasing virality of tweets to spread brand awareness without spending a dime.
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