We’ve all done it (or at least thought about it): Shared an off-the-cuff line in a brainstorming session that manages to be on-message and makes everyone laugh. Sure, it might be a little cheeky or off-color, but it’s just so funny! But when it reaches your audience, will they be laughing, too? Or will the joke fall flat?
If you’ve spent any time shopping online in the past year or so, you might have come across a very specific example of this kind of marketing humor, which we’re semi-affectionately dubbing “Passive Aggressive Marketing.”
Many times, this tactic takes the form of a pop-up or nudge modal on a website, giving you the chance to do things like save money on your next sale or join an email list. You’re used to this binary choice: either you take the (presumably) great offer or you miss out on the brand’s generosity.
The passive aggressiveness comes into play should you decide to opt out of this deal, where you are forced to click on a button that, for lack of a better word, is SUPER judgmental. For instance, maybe you “Don’t Want to Protect Your Family” (security company) or “Want to Spend More Money” (clothing site) or “Hate Reading” (book retailer). Now, of course, none of these things are likely true, but the pop-up forces you to choose this ignoble path.
Now don’t get us wrong: we love a witty repartee just as much as anyone. But once you’ve seen this passive aggressive marketing tactic a few times, the joke begins to get a little stale.
And therein lies the danger: if you’re not one of the brands absolutely nailing the right tone, you’re simply following a trend that has the potential to annoy or even anger your audience.
Think of it like this: many people already find pop-ups that take over your entire screen to be burdensome; but now the pop-up is forcing them to say something that may not even be true. And if you’re using a basic pop-up that fires for everyone who visits your site, you might be badgering first-time visitors who aren’t familiar with your brand. What kind of first impression is that?
A good compromise might be to let your opt-in CTA have a little humor or edge to it, while the negative route offers a polite, neutral decline option like “No thanks.” That way, you can lighten the mood and test the waters with a little humor without putting your audience into a weird, passive aggressive corner.
As with any new tactic, it’s critical to consider your audience. If your brand routinely incorporates humor into your marketing and has a sarcastic, ironic tone, using these pop-up modals might be a huge hit for your audience. So make sure you do the important work of analyzing and considering your audience before implementing this tactic, just like you would any other.
Or don’t, or whatever…