Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Patrick Collister: Bantering brands

Patrick Collister, NDA’s monthly creative columnist, is the Curator of The Caples Awards, Editor of Directory and a friend to

One of the more common clichés of marketing these days is the desire of brand

managers to “start conversations”.


I’m pretty sure that while most are happy to talk at their followers, they aren’t that thrilled when they have to start talking with them, especially  if it’s a competitor who gets in touch.

These thoughts were prompted by a recent tweet from Nottingham Forest FC in the run-up to their match against Wolverhampton Wanderers in the Premier League.

Someone in their social media team posted an image of striker Emanuel Denis with three little wolf cubs. Implication, Wolves were there to be toyed with.

Unfortunately, Forest got beaten. Whereupon someone at Wolves posted an image of a chopped tree. Not long afterwards, their captain, Ruben Neves posted his own take, captioned ‘Playtime over’. He was rewarded with 61,500 ‘likes’. Five times more than his previous post on Instagram,

I love this sort of digital banter when brands engage with each other.

I’m not alone.

Four years ago, in Prom season in the USA, Burger King tweeted a photo of one of their restaurants asking, via its billboard, if Wendy’s next door would be their Prom Queen.

A day later came the response. ‘OK, but don’t get handsy and we have to be home by 10.’

This got 98,000 mentions in social media.

This sort of joshing between brands isn’t new.

BMW in South Africa regularly taunted its rivals. And got some ribbing in return.

In California, BMW were sponsors of a chess tournament. Audi put up a billboard, reading, “Chess? No thanks, I’d rather be driving.” Then, after a pause, they replaced it with a poster of the all new A4 saying, “Your move, BMW. BMW responded nearby with an image of the muscly M3 and “Checkmate.” Audi bounced back with the R8 and “Your pawn is no match for our king.” Cleverly they now invited their Facebook followers to join in the fun and share their own photoshopped ideas.

Knockabout stuff. But it got picked up by the New York Times and Wired and even today there are dozens of sites that tell the story.

A couple of million media impressions doesn’t seem far-fetched.

Both brands come out of it well.  

This isn’t the same as Burger King grabbing McDonald’s by the tail as they frequently and amusingly do. Nor is it the same as the famous Mac versus PC campaign, which lasted for 66 commercials.

Sensibly, because in the US they are twice the size of their cheeky competitor, McDonald’s has never retaliated. When you’re the market leader, being a target for Number Two simply reinforces your position as Number One. When Microsoft did try to get back at Apple, they were ridiculed for it.

In many ways, identifying an enemy and going for the throat makes marketing easy because your strategy is crystal clear. Avis going for Hertz with ‘We try harder’, Virgin going for British Airways and pretty much anyone else they could think of.

Notts Forest vs Wolverhampton, though, is friendly badinage. And the posts were,a lot more interesting than the teams’ usual fare. Which is exactly why they got noticed and shared and liked.

But here’s the thing. Manager of Nottingham Forest Steve Cooper was furious with his social media team. The post was taken down. “It won’t happen again”, he said in a press conference later.

He would rather all the Reds’ advertising continues to be beige. Invisible.

Perhaps this is why @officialnffc has 465,000 followers, whereas @manchesterunited has 61.1 million. And fcbarcelona has 113 million.

I can’t help feeling that former Nottingham Forest manager Brian Clough would have had a very different perspective.

One of the most colourful personalities in the history of football, he was an instinctive brand manager. He’d have goaded the social media team to even more provocative posts. Banter was precisely how he got his messages across.

Of one defender he said, “I like my women to be feminine, not sliding into tackles andcovered in mud.”

My point is, confidence in comms leads to confidence in performance.

Nottingham Forest is currently at the bottom of the Premier League.

Marketers take note.

Caption: Is this one of the best brand managers of all time?