Snark comes to big corporateness–the Budweiser lawsuit and response

Snarkiness rules in this age of Internet-driven conversation. I participate far too often and decry its affect on our discourse and society. But, it is a big and increasing part of how we communicate. What is snarkiness? David Denby wrote a book called “Snark: It’s Mean, It’s Personal and It’s Ruining our Conversation.”┬áThe reviewer (link provides a review) notes that it’s hard to write about snarky without being snarky.

Mediabistro’s PR Newser almost epitomizes snarky in many of its comments about what is going on in the world of PR. Editor Patrick Coffee is strong left leaning, anti-corporate sentiments which color nearly every article they write about the PR world. And its clear from this post about the Budweiser lawsuit accusing the world’s largest brewer of watering down its beer, that he is no Budweiser fan–in that I share his opinion even while wishing he’d tone down the snarkiness.

His intense desire to show his taste in beer is far more refined than those poor saps who drink Bud Light (how am I doing on the snarky scale), he misses what to me is the main point in this story: how Budweiser is responding to its lawsuit. The company seems to have taken a page from the TacoBell playbook about how to respond to a lawsuit against your product. You may recall in that situation TacoBell took out large ads in major newspapers with the headlines: Thank you for suing us. It gave them the opportunity to tell the world that its meat was actually 88% beef or something like that.

Budweiser is responding to the claims of watered down beer with an even more aggressive and even snarky response that also very cleverly contains a promotional message about the good it is doing in the world–CSR in PR technical terms.

Budweiser’s response shows a can of water (with a Anheuser-Busch logo) and the headline says: “They Must Have Tested One of These.” The ad then goes on to say that Budweiser has donated 71 million cans of drinking water to the Red Cross and other disaster relief organizations. Clever, isn’t it. Highlight the good they are doing. Leverage the publicity and attention from the lawsuit. And communicate the idea that they are looking at those who sue them with disdain and sarcasm.

I have to say I like the response alot (I suspect Patrick Coffee dislikes it because he’s hoping the plaintiffs win). But, I’m also a little uneasy. There’s a trend developing here. Remember how Bodyform responded to the online criticism about its advertising for its feminine product? I loved that too. (3.7 million views on youtube so far). I am an advocate of large organizations getting away from the officious sounding communication that is typical, and adopting a more personal, informal and humorous writing style (doing some training on that right now). But, my unease comes from further encouraging a trend that I find distasteful and harmful when taken to an extreme.

There’s a fine line and good judgment is called for. Kudos to Budweiser. But, like any other very strong denial, you had darn rights better win that lawsuit and prove those suing you are indeed bozos because if you don’t, the snark you threw will land on you.

3 thoughts on “Snark comes to big corporateness–the Budweiser lawsuit and response”

  1. Snarky is hard to pull off. Humor can be deceptive. It can be in the eye of the beholder, but miss the mark with the public. One thing social media does well is immediately punish those who fail.

  2. It’s funny that we both published on this topic on the same day. Jedi Mindmeld, I think. =)

    As to your point, I couldn’t agree more, and wonder about how far we can take it. Is there a point of diminishing returns (I’m willing to bet there is), and what about government communicators? Take my Department as an example. I want to be approachable, but at the end of the day, I’m paid by the taxpayers for my expertise not to have fun. This is compounded by my working in health. How off-the-cuff or silly can I be about HIV infection? I can’t really be lighthearted when talking about reports out of our morgue.

    I definitely think there is a very fine line here, and many of us will stray over it. My point in arguing for us taking a more loose stance is that we’ve (especially in the government sector) tried the very staid, uptight method for years and seen our trustworthiness continue to fall. Maybe it’s time to try something different.

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