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Public Display of Advertising: Do consumers care when brands openly flirt & fight with each other?

On social media platforms, scuffles between people are watched with glee & popcorn from the relative safety of your screen. And flirty chatter, hurl-worthy simply can't be ignored.

, ET Bureau|
Updated: Jul 08, 2015, 08.56 AM IST
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On social media platforms, scuffles between people are watched with glee & popcorn from the relative safety of your screen. And flirty chatter, hurl-worthy simply can't be ignored.
On social media platforms, scuffles between people are watched with glee & popcorn from the relative safety of your screen. And flirty chatter, hurl-worthy simply can't be ignored.
Picture this. You are in a car driving down Mumbai's Marine Drive. The vehicle in front of yours is a taxi ferrying a ravenous couple making out in the backseat. They skipped the dessert course, you see.

What do you do? Be honest, now. Do you gawk or steal glances, and collectively simper with fellow passengers in neighbouring cars? No. Embarrassment and sympathy for the taxi driver wash over you? Or do you send a hilarious text or tweet to tell friends and followers what you witnessed? Save that for a red light, though.

The truthful answer in most cases would be some or all of the above. Consider offline public displays of altercation. A brawl or argument, one isn't personally involved in, generally is real-time entertainment for most people. That's the god-awful truth.

The digital-self isn't any different. On social media platforms, scuffles between people are watched with glee and popcorn from the relative safety of your screen. And flirty chatter, however hurl-worthy simply can't be ignored.

So, marketers are banking on our baser, voyeuristic human tendencies for one of the newer tactics in their arsenal — harmless but not witless banter between brands on social media. All in a bid to feed off the other's popularity, generate a burst of buzz and grab some column space perhaps. Maybe even humanise a brand and reinforce its personality, win some fans and followers. They're initiating and hijacking all kinds of conversations — confrontational, sickeningly saccharine and everything in between, mostly on Twitter. For instance, say, a tête-à-tête between cookie and smartphone or two e-commerce companies, but in full public view, while witnesses cry "get a room!"

A few days ago, radio taxi services Ola Cabs and TaxiForSure (acquired by Ola earlier this year) were whispering sweet nothings into each other's streams. Then @Olacabs tweeted this: "@taxiforsure we have the biggest fleet, you have the most economical cabs — are you thinking what we are thinking?" To play the proverbial haddi in the kebab, @Uber_India butted in with, "While they do their thing, you can continue to enjoy uberGO rides at Rs 7/KM." "@Uber_India At 7X you mean?" asked @Olacabs. By many standards Uber's was a smooth cut-in, until Ola made a comeback to "own" the moment. But who won this tweejoust matters not. Rather how brand conversations on social media evolve and its effect on them beyond amassing a few retweets, fans, followers and Likes, ought to matter.

Public Display of Advertising: Do consumers care when brands openly flirt & fight with each other?


Marketers are increasingly generating more and more streams of fleeting, light-hearted moments to surprise and delight users. Deepali Naair, CMO, Club Mahinda Holiday believes social media is not always about reacting to consumer complaints, it's about looking for opportunities to delight your consumers. Brand banter is a manifestation of this calling, we suppose.

However, what direct communication between brands on platforms like Twitter amounts to is one social media manager talking to her or his counterpart at the other brand's social media agency. And yes, occasionally, they belong to the same agency. Alas, it's not really brand Amazon trolling brand Flipkart, and vice versa, is it? Because brands are not intrinsically human. A fact conveniently misplaced. According to Ashok Lalla, digital and marketing advisor, and former global head – digital marketing at Infosys, such repartee "is a bit juvenile. And after the first time the novelty rubs off, and then you're like 'groan, moan, not again'." Sure, it's cute, the first time, and only if you have the goods to back it up and until raillery turns tiresome. Because as one user points out, "they ought to focus less on banter and more on solving consumer issues or they'll get battered." A point quite a few consumers have made on these very conversation threads.

Nonetheless, despite valid doubts about its uses, effectiveness and fears of potential brand erosion and social accidents (like, say, drunk tweeting from an official handle); brands which are more comfortable in their digital skins will continue chitchatting as long as some users play active bystanders. Zomato's response to Amazon's jibe — "@Zomato Loved all the logos you used in the last 6 months. Was #AurDikhao the brief to your designer? :)" — did get over 1300 retweets, after all. Here's the tweet: ".@amazonIN You should've seen the ones that didn't make the cut ;)" accompanied by a picture of a Zomato logo but with Amazon's iconic arrow flipped to point from 'a' to 'z'.

Public Display of Advertising: Do consumers care when brands openly flirt & fight with each other?


Public Display of Advertising: Do consumers care when brands openly flirt & fight with each other?


We're always quite ready to oblige with our attention, shares and commentary when a battle breaks out on the street or Twitter and when couples make-out in public or have sex on the red carpet at Cannes. The fact is that is how humankind's wired. But since this is Brand Equity, we shan't explore the philosophical depths of human nature here. Instead, we wonder if these exchanges between brands in a hyperactive social world where everyone's clamouring for attention, are a sign of maturity or desperation.
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