When Brands Tease Their Rivals on Twitter: Consequences for Consumer Engagement
Teasing is an interactional strategy that has received a lot of negative attention in recent years. As communities struggle to combat the negative effects of school and cyber bullying, it is hard to conjure up positive, prosocial consequences of teasing. Therefore, the suggestion that teasing might constitute a viable branding strategy that can increase consumer-brand engagement on social media seems, at best, unwarranted, and, at worst, nefarious. But the recent Presidential campaign of Donald Trump demonstrated that, at the very least, teasing can be an effective marketing strategy in a political context. The Trump campaign’s use of teasing to insult Trump’s opponents as “crooked Hilary” or “Low Energy Jeb,” for example, led both linguistic scholars and the popular press to acknowledge that Trump’s success might be due, at least partially, to his teasing antics. There is no readily apparent reason why this strategy cannot be applied to other marketing contexts as well. In this research, I draw from work in linguistics on the prosocial function of teasing to test the idea that brand teases can increase consumer engagement on Twitter. I introduce the construct of brand-to-brand (B-2-B) teasing to capture the phenomena of a focal brand making fun of a target brand on social media. I define B-2-B teasing as brand-generated content involving a combination of aggression and humor directed at a target brand. I hypothesize that B-2-B teasing tweets will increase consumer engagement on Twitter because they facilitate users’ presentation goals. Using a combination of real world data and lab experiments I find that B-2-B teasing increases engagement for millennial consumers and for Twitter users who follow brands, but not for older consumers nor for users who don’t follow brands. I also find that the relationship between B-2-B teasing is moderated by product category.