Culture 4 min read

Shots Fired! Sprint Wants to get Under Verizon's Skin

Ryan McGuire |

Ryan McGuire |

People used to think that internet trolling is usually reserved for people in dimly lit basements, but that’s beginning to change.

Big name companies like Sprint and Wendy’s are starting to target competing companies like Verizon and McDonald’s for laughs.

What ramifications could surface from internet culture in the corporate advertising world?

Sprint Takes Aim at Verizon With Fake Store AdClick To Tweet

Internet Culture Permeates Corporate Ads

A Trump meme here. A trolling “bait” comment there. The internet is full of its own kind of humor–both above board and questionable. But the undeniable fact is that “internet humor” is now a major form of entertainment for millions of people. That makes it no surprise to see many companies trying to incorporate this kind of humor into their advertising campaigns. So much so that “internet trolls and social media etiquette” is now a category of subject matter agencies cover. Something in the vein of internet humor that incorporates large scale business espionage is a recent Sprint ad campaign. 

You may have already noticed that Sprint launched national ads using a familiar face. The “Can you hear me now?” guy has worked for Sprint for more than a year now. Sprint takes this competition a step further by opening a fake Verizon store. Well, it’s a store inspired by Verizon and their continued choice not to compete on price points.

The ad features an array of classic internet humor from weird tv ads to high-level irony. This isn’t the first time a corporation has used internet culture to push a message. In fact, it’s a simple formula. You do some light-hearted trolling in the form of “sick burns” over Twitter with self-awareness and confidence. Then, you watch the retweets and shares roll in, gaining fans even if you’re a fast food chain. But the question remains: did Sprint take this attempt at internet humor one step too far?

From Burgergate to Workplace Harassment

internet troll
Alexander Pavlov |

Even the Wendy’s vs. McDonald’s Burgergate Twitter fight wasn’t as overt a jab as this move by Sprint. Corporate feuds are one thing, but by involving “internet humor” which has a history of online comments transforming into real world actions, accountability becomes a big thing. Some would say to “ignore” these kinds of trolling moves, but others voice bigger concerns. Joel Stein of TIME Magazine compiled an in-depth article on the ramifications of trolling. He wrote: “An anonymous poll of the writers at TIME found that 80% had avoided discussing a particular topic because they feared the online response. The same percentage consider online harassment a regular part of their jobs.

It may not have been Sprint’s intention to instigate these kinds of detrimental and devastating effects. Both Sprint and T-Mobile are improving in network coverage and user numbers all the time. Verizon’s “stay the course” strategy could become their downfall. Perhaps the company just wanted to fight fire with fire, but any conclusion drawn at this point by anyone outside Sprint would be conjecture. What we do know is that major companies across many industries are treating trolling as a more serious offense.

3 Edgy 5 Me

Despite concerns, many companies have used internet humor as a tool for garnering fans. Arby’s released a robust ad campaign targeting internet denizens and video game fans. Not only did this boost engagement on Twitter, Arby’s doubled its Facebook shares by using internet humor and pop culture references. Of course, when Burger King “borrowed” the Google Assistant for an ad, it completely backfired. Other internet humor ads like an ad showing the “memer” customer from Wendy’s totally became a meme. Of course, the reasons why it did probably weren’t what the Wendy’s marketing team had in mind.

What makes internet humor in corporate advertising such a risky move?

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Juliet Childers

Content Specialist and EDGY OG with a (mostly) healthy obsession with video games. She covers Industry buzz including VR/AR, content marketing, cybersecurity, AI, and many more.

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