Eating Popsicles with my friends that one time, I got this
Popsicle-stick joke: Q: What's the best time to go to the
dentist? A: Tooth-thirty. I expressed fake outrage to my
friends, because the answer should, obviously, be
Tooth-hurty. "Write a strongly worded letter to Popsicle,"
one of my friends said. So I did.
I suppose I could have called the toll-free number on the box,
but writing to the company seemed like it'd be more fun. I dashed
off a formal missive, identifying myself as a loyal, lifelong
customer who expected better of Popsicle. I expressed
disappointment that I'd been served a defective joke -- a lame joke
that wasn't fully lame. My letter was a bit rambling, but
not too unhinged. I swear.
I dropped my letter in the mail and waited. And waited. And
waited. (I guess I thought I'd get an apologetic form letter --
that I would cherish -- and maybe a coupon for a free box of
I'm still waiting. To this day, every time I eat a Popsicle, I
think of how someone at Popsicle HQ probably read my letter and
thought, Yeah, I'm not paid enough to write back to idiots like
Please note, though, that I just said "every time I eat a
Popsicle" -- because God knows I sure haven't stopped eating
Popsicles because the brand failed to "engage" with me.
I've been thinking of Tooth-thirtygate again lately because of
Twitter. I happened to check Twitter's Trending Topics chart on a
recent Friday and saw that a jokey hashtag trend,
#WhyIDidntTextYouBack, was in the top 10. Hashtag trends like this
are, of course, the Twitter community's homegrown, DIY version of
Popsicle-stick jokes -- a time-wasting amusement designed to elicit
a groan and maybe a suppressed laugh. I clicked on
#WhyIDidntTextYouBack to see what kind of bad comedy people were
coming up with, and the first tweet I saw came from @IHOP, the
official Twitter account of the International House of
@IHOP: #WhyIDidntTextYouBack I was busy eating
I couldn't resist tweeting back:
@simondumenco: @IHOP That's no excuse. You can
eat pancakes any time you want! It's clear you really don't care
Within a few minutes, to my surprise, @IHOP wrote back, which
led to a slow-motion exchange over roughly the next half hour:
@IHOP: @simondumenco Don't say that, Simon! You
know that we care about you, don't be silly!
@simondumenco: @IHOP Well, then put down the
fork and let's talk.
@IHOP: @simondumenco Forks down. What would you
like to chat about? :)
@simondumenco: @IHOP I just need to feel like
this relationship is going somewhere.
@IHOP: @simondumenco Let's take it one pancake
at a time. ;)
@simondumenco: @IHOP I stopped seeing
@WaffleHouse because I thought you were serious about us. And now
you want to take it one pancake at a time?
@IHOP: @simondumenco No need to rush things,
the right breakfast companion is worth the wait.
@simondumenco: @IHOP Wow, did I just get
friendzoned by IHOP?
@IHOP: @simondumenco We need a little time, we
just got out of a relationship with French toast.
I left it at that because I know for a fact that IHOP continues
to be in a relationship with French toast. IHOP lied to
me! OK, sure, IHOP was just trying to let me down gently, but
All of this -- my IHOP exchange, my Popsicle flashback -- makes
me think about what it means for a brand to be "responsive" to
consumers. Pre-social media, you had to be really frustrated with a
brand to want to summon the energy to make a call or write a letter
Now, Twitter in particular makes interacting with brands
effortless and frictionless -- and entirely public. Anybody can
fire off a bitchy tweet to a brand in a matter of seconds.
On the one hand, it's kind of charming that the person who
manages the @IHOP account decided to "engage" a consumer -- me --
in a wry back-and-forth.
On the other hand, probably 99% of people are never inclined to
interact with brands -- via social media or otherwise. And of the
1% who are, a good chunk are pretty obviously idiots with too much
time on their hands. Which brings me to my own riddle:
Q: What's the ROI of engaging with cranks and
mischief-makers in social media?
A: You know what? Write your own answer to that question,
people. Can't you see I'm busy here?!
- - -
Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" media columnist for Advertising
Age. Follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.