Brand Dig: Wendy’s, Pret A Manger and Sainsbury’s Find the Right Tone on Social Media

In this blog series, we dig into the world of marketing and discuss brands, news, trends and examples that have made the digital headlines. This week, researcher Harry looks at how brands use their digital voice and start sounding more like human beings than automated robots.

At a time when people are encouraged to review everything from their holiday B&B to the local cafe down the road, there’s no shortage of scathing critiques and flattering reviews online.

But there’s a difference between review sites like TripAdvisor and very public social media platforms like Twitter. People use the latter to air their biggest frustrations (whether real or imagined) for one reason: it puts pressure on brands to respond. Yet not every brand response is a grovelling apology. In fact, some have done well to call out absurd consumer comments.

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Wendy’s Fights Back with Sass


Most recently, Wendy’s challenged the idea that you should never feed an online troll. Twitter user Thuggy-D posted a provocative tweet mocking Wendy’s claim of never using frozen beef in its burgers. The fast food chain’s response was fairly tame at first and it just corrected the misguided consumer. But after Thuggy-D retorted hostilely – “so you deliver it raw on a hot truck?” – Wendy’s took a more sarcastic and patronising tone. The brand posted: “Where do you store cold things that aren’t frozen?” before mocking Thuggy-D for forgetting “refrigerators existed for moment”.

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Although it probably pays for a brand to adhere to the “customer is always right” mantra, they can still be human and stand up to undue criticism. Brands have long directed customer service through social media but the internet still gets overexcited when brands employ a more playful cheeky tone. Yet isn’t that what attracted brands to Twitter in the first place – to get closer to their customers and behave a bit more like them, too?


Pret A Manger gets involved in a pun battle

Although it might be fun to publicly call out customers when they’re wrong, sometimes a complaint on Twitter has to be dealt with a formality. But brands can still use humour to disarm the tension from a disgruntled customer. After one Pret a Manger customer complained about a crayfish and avocado flatbread tasting like a “sandpit”, the brand wisely decided to solve the problem in the public view. Pret asked for further details and then offered the customer a free sandwich as compensation.


Satisfied with the response he received, the customer replied with a Kanye West-inspired lyric “ThatFishKray” – which Pret saw as an invitation for a fish-based pun battle. No fish was spared in the three-hour exchange between brand and customer that included gems like “ I can’t feel my plaice when I’m with you”, “prawn to be wiiiiiiild” and “Baby, I’m just gonna hake, hake, hake hake, hake I hake it off”. Pret came across as even more genuine and authentic because the entire exchange took place over DM – so there can be no accusation that the brand was just playing to the crowd and looking for a social media marketing win. After all, it was the customer himself who took a screenshot of the interaction and posted it for all to see.


Sainsbury’s indulges in a bit of fantasy

With social media giving people the tools to publicly embarrass brands, there are inevitably going to be a few outlandish posts from people just looking for a reaction. It’s perhaps not surprising then that only 51% of brands in the UK (and just 43% in the US) engage with @ tagged posts directed at them on Twitter. In comparison, Facebook as a platform offers more characters with which brands can craft a smart response to some cheeky customer – and Sainsbury’s may have offered up the perfect playbook to do that.


When a Sainsbury’s customer found a worm in her salad she took to Facebook to describe a rather peculiar turn of events. She claimed (in an admittedly jokey tone) that the worm had shocked her to such an extent that she soiled herself, her husband divorced her, and she had to resort to eating a burger which caused her to gain 12 stone. She called on Sainsbury’s to fire its staff and close down the business. Rather than dismiss the customer with the slightly wild imagination, Sainsbury’s engaged her with a similar whimsical tone. It sympathised with the innocent worm becoming an accidental part of the “horror” story before offering a refund instead of “issuing P45s”.

In fact, what came through the post from Sainsbury’s to the customer was a gift card for the store and a Netflix voucher addressed to the worm.

Need help finding your brand’s tone of voice? Well we can help – we can fish for insights using our audience intelligence tools. Give us a shout on to learn more.