Sometimes, Good Marketing Means Making Fun of Yourself

Monday, 22 March 2010

Mistakes happen. Websites break, typos get printed and stores run out of sale items. And with more and more people using social media to talk about their experiences with brands, you better be prepared to hear not only the raves, but also a few

Love It or Hate It, People Talk About Your Brand

Whether it’s on Facebook or over the phone, people tend to spread information when they fall on either end of the love/hate spectrum. If you’re right in the middle, you’re probably not going to tell your friends, online or off, about the average experience you just had. But if some email was too horrible for words, or a customer service rep was unbelievably stellar, you are much more likely to spread the word.

Unfortunately for brands, there are far more haters in the world who relish the time they spend bashing mistakes and website downtime, yet rarely take the time for outspoken praise. What’s a brand to do? You can’t spend all day defending yourself, so it’s best to be on the offensive. And sometimes, that means making fun of yourself.

The Best Defense Is a Good Offense

And as any psychologist will tell you, humor is a very effective defense mechanism. Take Twitter, for example. When the site first started out, there was a lot of spotty service. Even now, when Apple makes a big announcement, Twitter frequently goes offline. But with the help of the now iconic Twitter Fail Whale, a negative situation has become a cultural reference. And while users may not look forward to Twitter going down, it’s a little less disappointing when you are greeted by a cheerful cartoon whale instead of a boring black and white error page.

DSW has caught on to this little trick, and served me one of the better error messages I’ve seen in awhile. Take a look.


I like the slightly brain teaser-esque flip of “we hate when thus happens.” What do you think? What other websites or brands have you seen do something like this effectively?


Just alerted to this most awesome list of humorous, snarky or otherwise entertaining 404 pages by @AMP_Agency. Check it out!


Billion Dollar Babes get’s in on the fun with this post-error message (and a free shipping deal!) after their site went a little wonky. Love the way they played with the text.


  • Very true re making fun of yourself. Do you remember the Rutger Hauer adverts for Guinness? See
    Loved these ads!

    Comment by Paul Tagent — March 24, 2010 @ 8:54 am
  • If only more businesses did something like this. I like it when a company has a snarky sense of humor. I don’t get so put out by website errors if the 404 page is interesting.

    That and I love DSW!

    Comment by kate — March 24, 2010 @ 9:23 am
  • So true,

    it remembers me a wonderful a Gwen Bell speech I had at the Houston IS conference in 2009 on how to handle small crisis – called “Glitch Happens” …

    This type of marketing is perfectly represented by the fail whale and its success –

    Comment by le juge SEO — May 25, 2010 @ 5:31 pm

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