Polls hadn’t even closed in the United States when Irish budget airline Ryanair started trolling President Donald Trump on Twitter.
“When your dad is enjoying his sun holiday too much and hits up the MAGAluf strip,” the airline tweeted along with a clip of Trump dancing at rallies.
The next day, as Trump falsely claimed he had won the election while votes were still being counted, the airline tweeted again. “Trump declaring victory this early is like disembarking before the plane has landed,” it tweeted. “we don’t recommend.”
Replies rolled in – mostly from customers seeking refunds during the UK’s lockdown.
Ryanair tried a humorous tone on a serious issue, something most companies wouldn’t even attempt to touch with a 10-foot pole during the stressful past week.
And they really shouldn’t, said Paul Argenti, a professor of corporate communication at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. Speaking up about the election can really only lead to backlash, or at least confusion, Argenti said.
“It doesn’t make any sense for anyone, unless maybe they make voting machines,” he said.
The Ryanair tweets – and a handful of other brand attempts to market during election week – followed a flurry of marketing in weeks prior, as companies took to social media on the less controversial topic of encouraging people to vote. Companies engaging in that messaging included delivery app Postmates in its own app, dating app Bumble on profiles and outdoor clothing company Patagonia on Twitter.
This week, companies known for being outspoken on social issues, like Nike, have stayed silent on social media.
That’s in part because speaking out on political and social issues have been a mixed bag for many well-known brands. For example, many companies chose to publicly support the Black Lives Matter movement this summer, drawing a mixture of praise and rebukes for not doing enough.
Still, a smattering of smaller companies dipped their toes in on the election topic. Meditation app Calm offered stress relief tips without directly mentioning the vote. Frozen steak-slice company Steak-umm reminded people to keep an eye out for misinformation, tweeting on Tuesday:
“stay mindful of the excessive misinformation that will be spreading across social media platforms this week. there will be bots, sensationalism, conspiracy theories, outright lies, and everything in between. steak-umm bless us, everyone”
Others were more outspoken. Ben and Jerry’s, which is known for its progressive views, tweeted, “We can’t believe an ice cream company has to say this… The President’s lies are a threat to our country.”
There are dangers in the attempts to do so. Gap was met with widespread ridicule on Wednesday when it tweeted a GIF of a sweater, half blue and half red, being zipped up with the message, “The one thing we know, is that together, we can move forward.”
“This tweet needs to fall back into the gap,” one user tweeted as others piled on, calling out Gap for drastically misreading the anxious feelings of people across the country.
(To make it worse, the “A” on the Gap sweater didn’t line up as it was being zipped.)
Gap confirmed the sweater was not a real product, but rather one created for the social media post. Gap corporate communications director Ana Serefin Smith said in a statement that the company remains hopeful the country will come together.
“From the start we have been a brand that bridges the gap between individuals, cultures and generations,” she said. “The intention of our social media post, that featured a red and blue hoodie, was to show the power of unity. It was just too soon for this message.”
Meanwhile, Ryanair said it was waiting for a comeback from Trump as it works “night and day this week to come up with the most politically astute tweets for our followers.”
“As Europe’s largest airline, we know what it’s like to win the popular vote, and would be willing to fly the Trump family to Ryanair HQ to discuss our Twitter strategy further as it looks like they might have some free time on their hands in the near future,” the company’s head of social media, David Elkin, said in a statement.
The Washington Post