Snark and the Internet were made for each other. With the rise of social media and digital culture, snark has really evolved into an art form. And a niche industry that can be hard to market to the masses.
A big part of the “art” side of things is knowing how to walk the line between being crass/off-putting and sarcastically funny/relatable. Some snarky products are actually both, but their marketing campaigns don't have to cross that line.
It's also super important to know exactly who your audience is – so you don't waste time offending people who'll never buy what you're selling.
Finding your audience
The audience for such things is larger than you may think, however – and certainly not limited to Millennials or young people. Products like Cards Against Humanity – the group card game “for horrible people” – have made it possible for smaller companies, like those offensive card companies, to find the tribe that will appreciate them.
For example, 8078 Cards include sentiments from the tame, “Sorry… that you think I should be sorry,” to the NSFW – and there's a market for both. Using audience marketing tools like NetBase's Audience 3D or Salesforce Marketing Cloud's Audience Builder lets marketers find social consumers based on common interests.
Someone who likes Cards Against Humanity would likely appreciate these brands. Someone who posts how much they hate vulgar stand-up comedy, not so much. At the very least, it's a starting point.
Then again, you may discover audience segments who hate vulgar stand-up, and love Cards Against Humanity. This is why social listening tools are so useful – they keep you from eliminating potential fans based on assumptions.
Be careful, be offensive, be authentic
When you know what appeals to your audience, a snarky persona can simply be a marketing tool – even when the product has nothing to do with snark. Brands like Taco Bell, in an attempt to draw younger customers, are famously snarky on Twitter, engaging with other brands and tweeting like a sassy 19-year-old.
With such approaches you do have to be careful about offending someone unprepared for a sarcastic attitude – i.e., some people just want a good taco – and sarcasm doesn't always “read” as intended.
Facebook and Twitter, with more general audiences, can be especially dangerous for dry wit.
Heading to digital spaces where groups of snarky people gather might be better – especially if you’re looking for Millennials, the kings and queens of snark. Tumblr, Snapchat, and even Instagram are more curated by the user than other social platforms, and people go there to laugh and play more than anything else.
At that point, it’s about being authentic. Nothing is more pathetic than a brand trying to be snarky, when it’s obviously just a sales pitch. Be offensive, if you can handle the potential backlash. If your gimmick is having zero you-know-whats to give, then go for it. Just be real.
And be sure you have a good legal team standing by – just in case. Comedian Kathy Griffin may joke about having an arsenal of lawyers at her disposal, but she's not kidding. It's how she gets to keep making fun of celebrities without getting sued.
Establish a personality – but keep it to a dull roar
The internet is full of opinionated people, and that makes it a fertile landscape for getting into trouble. It's tempting to reply to those looking to stir up trouble, especially when being a bit “in your face” is your image. But you have to know when to speak up and when to stay out of the fray.
Hopping on hashtag trends and capitalizing on larger conversations can be useful, but tread lightly. Unless you're actually Louis C.K. or Sarah Silverman, trying to be a comedian usually doesn’t work. Sometimes it doesn't even work for them.
Then again, sometimes a little controversy is good for a snarky brand. A good social media team should know the difference and keep your brand from going off the rails.
If you’re not a snarky brand, but your audience appreciates biting humor, use sarcasm to become a personality worth following. Taco Bell doesn’t just tweet about tacos (though that happens, too). They engage other brands, send birthday messages to celebs, and joke about how much they hate Monday mornings. It’s easy to forget they're a fast food brand – or that they're marketing anything – when you scroll through their timeline.
Offer up commentary and shareable memes, and don’t be afraid to throw a little “shade” at your competitors – as long as it's all in good fun. Just like being “cool,” snark is all about the illusion of ease. Of course, it’s anything but easy. But your audience doesn’t have to know that.