Brands Who Beef: Navigating the Era of Social Media “Clapbacks”

Pepsi’s Social Media Manager found herself stifling a yawn. It was only 4:20 p.m. on a Tuesday but she was excited to get out of the office and grab a drink with some friends. On her way out, she checked SproutSocial and saw that content was still scheduled to be sent out throughout the evening – including that new Kendall Jenner ad that the entire office was buzzing about.

However, she was only halfway through one glass of Pinot Noir and her friend’s recount of a horrible Tinder date when her phone went crazy.

We all know what happened next.


Pepsi is the latest brand to find themselves at the wrong end of a Twitter conversation. In the past 24 hours, I’ve heard more about Pepsi than a Taco Bell cashier that has to tell patrons that they don’t actually carry Sprite (“But will Sierra Mist be okay?“).

I could spend the next few paragraphs discussing the direct link between the lack of racial sensitivity in this ad and the lack of melanin in these strategy sessions. But that’s clear. Instead, I’m going to talk about another trend that I’ve seen across social media: brands who beef.


Many have speculated that Coca Cola would capitalize on their competitors misfortune and release a “shady” tweet. So far, it’s been radio silence but it wouldn’t be the first time a large brand took this route.

That’s right, Gentle Reader. Beef is no longer reserved for rappers looking to settle a score. Large brands have used this approach to increase engagement and even garner more coverage during a slow media period.

For example, take McDonald’s vs. Wendy’s. Just last week, Wendy’s responded to their competitors’ promise to cook with fresh beef.



Like Nicki Minaj, McDonald’s still hasn’t responded to the beef after a week.

Prior to that, Delta took a swipe at United after the latter became embroiled in a social media fueled controversy over their leggings policy.

However, many users pointed out that Delta just had a similar social media crisis when they refused to let a black doctor assist a passenger in distress.

In an age where brands are searching for new ways to engage with their audience, many have forgone trying to make their content “go viral” and have moved towards engaging in Twitter feuds.

While I feel like this approach is far too risky for smaller brands to undertake, here are a few questions you should ask yourself if you’re looking to add this to your social media playbook.

What is your goal?

Prior to adding this to your social media playbook, ask yourself, “What exactly am I trying to do here?” Are you trying to give your brand an edgier image? Increase engagement and get coverage? Or are you just looking to hop on the new trend that all the cool kids on the block are into? Remember, baby, everything ain’t for everybody. Be sure that this approach fits your brand. For example, if you’re a non-profit providing assistance to underprivileged children in Syria, I am 99.9% sure that you don’t want to engage in beef with another charitable organization within the same realm.

Is it timely?

If you reeaaaaally want to take this approach, you need to watch your selected competitors’ Twitter accounts at all times. Set up alerts so that their tweets go to your phone or ensure that your social media person is keeping tabs. The last thing you want to do is reply to a stale tweet. Try to reply in at least three hours or less.

Are you playing nice?

Seriously. As you can see above, all of the jabs have been lighthearted thus far. Snarky responses are fine, but keep it civil. I’d also suggest following up privately with a nice note to clear the air once the “beef” is complete.

For now, it’s unclear if Coca Cola will develop a response via ad or tweet. However, like a real housewife looking to get her contract renewed for another season, I’m always here for the drama.


About the Author: Krysten Copeland is the founder of KC & Co Communications, a boutique Public Relations and Marketing firm located in Washington, DC.

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