Brands push back against ‘Saturday Night Live’ caricatures

Being the target of parody can be humiliating or even damaging for your brand. What is the right way to combat negative stereotypes about you in pop culture?

When is it OK for a brand to say a joke has gone too far?

When should a brand defend itself when it has become a comedian’s target—or, in a pair of recent cases, the target of America’s most popular sketch comedy show, “Saturday Night Live”?

Two brands—Safelite and Aer Lingus—took different approaches to responding to the show’s jibes.

SNL has a history of making fun of brands who find themselves in the news based on negative news coverage. For example, no one seemed to care—and Wells Fargo didn’t protest—last season when SNL went after the bank and its practice of opening fraudulent accounts on its customers’ behalf.

The big difference for Aer Lingus and Safelite was that they hadn’t transgressed before becoming SNL’s target. Rather, they were just convenient.

Safelite

In a sketch that aired in October, cast member Beck Bennett played a Safelite technician who is overly interested in a customer’s teenage daughter, continually breaking a family’s car window so he can continue seeing the daughter.

The brand took exception, and voiced its displeasure on Twitter:

It also responded to several Twitter users who thought that Safelite may have even paid for the brand mention:

The brand went further, calling the sketch “disappointing”:

Safelite’s tweeting prompted SNL to remove the sketch from Hulu and YouTube. NBC has also reportedly worked to remove any illegal instances of the sketch popping up on other sites.

Safelite’s response was measured and restrained. It nodded to the fact that SNL’s intention was to make a joke, and the brand explained why it didn’t land for them while standing up for its employees (“Our techs are our heroes”).

While Safelite didn’t publically ask SNL or NBC to take down the sketch, it made the strong case for why the sketch wasn’t funny and why it shouldn’t be celebrated, and NBC took down the sketch on its own.

Aer Lingus

Aer Lingus became the latest brand to bash SNL after a sketch aired last weekend featuring actress Saoirse Ronan as a flight attendant for the airline. Many, including the brand, are criticizing the show for promoting Irish stereotypes.

Here’s the full sketch as it aired Saturday:

Aer Lingus responded on Sunday with tweets of its own, starting with a poll:

After brand officials had no doubt seen the results of the poll, it issued this parody of a tweet from President Trump, who had his own issues with his portrayal on the show:

Though she defended the sketch against the backlash, Independent columnist Aoife Kelly summed up how many felt about its use of bad accents and Irish clichés: “The Aer Lingus sketch was about as bad as it can get. It was dire. It was lazy. It was criminally unfunny.”

Some went as far as to call the sketch “racist.” Irish Times writer Donald Clark wrote, “No British sketch show would now even attempt these levels of Paddywhackery.”

Aer Lingus also stopped short of calling for the sketch to be taken down, but it did something that communicators can learn from: It fought funny with funny.

By tweaking the verbiage of an original President Trump tweet, Aer Lingus buddied up to SNL by poking fun at itself and a familiar SNL target. It was a calculated risk which paid off this time for the company.

The brand was also smart to take a risk by asking its audience to weigh in on whether they thought the sketch was good. They no doubt had a feeling that the sketch was bad, but getting confirmation from their audience gave them credence in pushing back.

How would you respond if your organization was the butt of a SNL sketch?

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