Saturday Night Live (SNL) is a popular comedy show, in which celebrity hosts join an ensemble of comedic actors often to perform funny sketches. A lot of the time, pop culture references or brands become the brunt of the joke or incorporated into them somehow. While these jokes may not always align with the brand’s values, there’s no doubt they still help give a massive amount of free PR for the brands, and if a brand can harness the ensuing virality in the right way it can work out in their favor.
One such example can be seen from a SNL skit this past weekend in which famous singer Harry Styles “plays a Sara Lee employee who’s in charge of the brand’s Instagram account but has mixed it up with his own personal account and posted some inappropriate comments on others photos through the Sara Lee account.” (NYPost) Sara Lee is an American consumer goods company known for their desserts and breads, and many of the saucy and raunchy comments they used in their jokes definitely don’t really align with Sara Lee’s family friendly branding. After the skit aired, many consumers turned to the real Sara Lee social media pages to comment some of the scandalous comments from the skit that Styles’s character had accidentally left from the Sara Lee page.
While the comments being left across all the pages may have initially seemed like chaos for the brand, soon the hashtag #SaraLee was trending and people were tweeting things like “So who’s now adding Sara Lee to their grocery list?”. When reached out to, Sara Lee told the NY Post that they “didn’t participate in creating the skit and its content doesn’t align with Sara Lee’s brand. But, we all know SNL pushes the envelope for laughs and we are taking it in stride.” They eventually deleted some of the more inappropriate comments and temporarily deleted their Instagram comments, but overall didn’t seem too bothered by the whole ordeal. Due to a completely external thing not associated with their own marketing efforts at all, they were able to ascend into virality.
Similarly, paint brand Farrow & Ball that were the brunt of an SNL skit last week where it referenced it as having high prices and flowery descriptions had increased buzz for a little bit, and the brand actually even capitalized on this moment by responding with a tactical ad in the New York Times. It read “Introducing our Saturday Night Live special edition col-our” with a paint called English Roast alongside the caption “A rich and good hum-oured hue with subtle hints of bone-dry satire and a lingering aftertaste of charred British beef. It’s not just paint, it’s Farrow & Ball.” (AdAge) Anthony Davey, CEO at Farrow & Ball, spoke to this saying “Whilst Farrow & Ball doesn’t always use jokes in their creative, it’s still a warm and human brand. Embracing humour is just another facet of that.”
So what can we learn from this? How a brand can appropriately harness publicity they gain that may not be exactly what they want or in favor of their brand values. When external things happen that are out of one’s control, such as SNL launching your brand into virality, you can embrace the buzz it’s bringing (like the adage says there’s no such thing as bad press) and take it in stride or even harness it by responding to it and using it in your marketing strategy to feed off of the virality it had created.
Some questions this left me with, however, included once virality is created and if a brand embraces it, what happens to the consumers who are engaging with the content—are they just engaging while it’s a trend, do they have higher brand awareness as a result and/or are they actually converted to consumers of the brand? I also wonder about what the best internal mechanisms within a marketing agency of handling something like this would be. The turnaround on their end in response to an event or incident like a SNL skit about your brand would have to be quick, so what kind of protocol is best internally to discuss the best course of action and execute that?