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Should your brand be edgy; are you crossing the line?

We participate in social platform for small business referrals called Alignable which offers a Q&A feature for organizations to ask each other questions varying in nature.

This morning, this one caught my eye:

Alignable screenshot with question: What's your test to make sure humor doesn't cross the line?

As I scanned the responses, it was littered with folks advising to “not take the risk” and “consider community guidelines”. The latter of which I agree with: it does your brand no good to be kicked off your key social media platforms, but on the other hand, I think back to a recent quote from Steve Carell regarding the success of The Office had it been filmed in recent times:

“A lot of what is depicted on that show is completely wrong-minded. That’s the point, you know? But I just don’t know how that would fly now. There’s a very high awareness of offensive things today—which is good, for sure. But at the same time, when you take a character like that too literally, it doesn’t really work.”

Steve Carell, “Michael Scott” in NBC’s The Office, 2005-2013

When you consider a show of such amazing success that has driven millions of loyal viewers and followers, you’ll note that one of the reason’s they’ve been able to do that is brand. They broke the modern mold of Sunday, late-night, after football television. They we’re edgy, provocative, and border-line and the reason why it worked is because the audience they were trying to attract resonated with the brand.

A couple examples of edgy brands

On the extreme side of the spectrum is a brand like Wendy’s. Now you might be thinking, “I’ve seen their commercials, they’re pretty normal.” You’re right. But Wendy’s uses it’s social media channels to really show their true colors.

A screenshot from Twitter of Wendy's roasting a customer.

P.S. If you’re a fan of Wendy’s roasting, Bored Panda wrote an entire article dedicated to more.

Why this works: Wendy’s doesn’t need to have a super formal brand. They can actually accomplish one of their goals (creating viral content that drives loyalty and engagement) through these outlandish posts. When you particularly consider their target audience in this channel (informal, young, fast food-goers, on Twitter), their brand voice works super well.

Somewhere is the middle fall brands like Drift. They’re not using their brand voice to throw shade at potential customers but they are leveraging their product and market (Conversational Marketing) to (ironically) have a conversational, informal voice. Despite selling a chatbot platform, Drift’s marketing is refreshingly human and feels like a conversation you might have with a colleague or even friend.

A screenshot of Drift's very informal brand.

Why this works: Even though Drift is in the B2B space, they’re selling to sales and marketing. They don’t need to hype up their product or wrap it in technical jargon; they just want to make sales/marketing folks lives easier & a buyer’s journey more pleasant.

All in all, this is how we responded to the Alignable question:

  • Yes, consider guidelines of the platforms you’re leveraging
  • Don’t be a total insensitive jerk
  • Speak in the way your core audience will resonate with