Troll Marketing reminds me a bit of attending a military school. Not the marching, rifle drills, uniform tidiness, or respect for rank. It reminds me of surviving all of the other aspects.

There are a few keys to surviving in military school that you won’t read about in any school-sanctioned brochures. For example, you can make effective blow-darts with a needle, a shoelace anglet, and the cardboard tube from the bottom of dry-cleaning hangers.


It is important to remember to quickly scan left, right, and up when entering a room; you want to keep an eye out for anyone holding a blanket to toss over top of you. Why fear a blanket? You can’t see or swing your fists effectively with a large wool blanket covering you, while everyone outside the blanket can pummel at will. 

Most importantly, you must have an insult at the ready at all times. And it better be a good insult. No tired mom jokes you got off a website. It would be best if you got personal. About his cleanliness, his cheap-ass bootleg sneakers, his sister’s attractiveness, if his dad looks like a communist, whatever. 

So, you need to do your research on as many possible future foes as you can. “How was your weekend? Did your parents buy you steak, or did they serve you chitterlings (IE: are they broke)? What’s your dad’s take on Marxism?”

It would also help if you had some generic disses that’ll work on anyone. There will be cases when some random unknown dude from the other side of campus steps to you. Have to have a few non-specific burners in reserve for that dude.


The trick to surviving a military school trolling is having an insult good enough to punk your adversary without being so good that you start a fistfight. And in essence, this is how Moonpie, Wendy’s, and others are operating on social media.

Troll marketing is when brands engage with their audience on their digital channels with controversial material, hoping to “quickly strike-up conflict and draw attention to the post.” The practice is packaged in a way that hopes to “become viral and attract attention.” 

Purveyors of fast food have certainly taken to troll marketing of late, with companies like Wendy’s finding a good deal of virality in the practice. After Wendy’s began showing its “sassy side,” it “prompted other people to troll the company in hopes of a sassy reply tweet, and Wendy’s continued to fire back with witty remarks.” 


Other companies have taken up the mantle of “absurdist humor that’s the bread and butter of the meme diet consumed by today’s teens and twentysomethings,” and one of them is the 100-year-old Moonpie.

If you are outside of Appalachia or “the South,” you could be forgiven for not knowing what the hell a Moonpie is. A Moonpie is a graham cracker marshmallow sandwich dunked in chocolate. It was created as a snack for hungry coal miners. Nowadays, folks drop MoonPies into their shopping carts at places like Winn-Dixie and Piggly Wiggly.

One might think that because the 100-year-old snack is, well, 100 years old and hails from the southern region of the United States that the MoonPie “voice” might also exude the gentile nature southerners are famous for. 

When MoonPie tweets, in a tone redolent of a droll Seth Rogen as Ben in Judd Apatow’s comedy classic Knocked Up, you can’t help but wonder: Who comes up with this stuff…MoonPie, a wholesome, whimsical brand, has quite exquisitely found a contemporary voice — and mastered the art of being cool online.

Maseena Ziegler (2017)
How MoonPie Became The Unexpected Top Social Media Brand Of 2017

MoonPie’s Twitter really began its accent in 2017 with a clapback tweet to Hostess declaring its Golden CupCakes as the “official snack of the eclipse.”

Where MoonPie has outperformed other snark-peddling accounts has been in its ability to give life to their account. “The brand voice they’ve cultivated doesn’t just reflect a particular attitude or sense of humor—it reflects a specific brand character.” Said Josh McCorkle on Skyword.


“Social media has created an opportunity for brands to create characters that people can actually feel connected to—and interact with—in an authentic way.” McCorkle said.


Wendy’s saves its best trolling for the golden arches; for two straight years, Wendy’s used the holiday “National Frozen Food Day” to needle McDonald’s use of frozen beef in some of their stores.


Burger King also seems to relish trolling McDonald’s. This makes sense, there can only be one #1 with “the remaining 99.9 percent of companies aggressively attempting to stay top-of-mind… [are] forced to innovate to get ahead.”  

McDonald’s trolling has quite literally “become a global pastime for Burger King;” when McDonald’s lost its “Big Mac” Trademark in the EU, Burger King unveiled an entire menu of “The Not Big Macs.” 


Location-based technology is creating a host of new ways for rival companies to troll each other in a marketplace that increasingly favors the creative and snarky troll. 

So, it should be no surprise that Burger King might go for the jugular by leveraging location-based technology in its fast-food war with McDonald’s. 

For instance, Geo-conquesting, “the practice of attracting customers away from competitors using location-based ads.” The practice where an ad would be sent to someone who visited a rival company’s location.

In Burger King’s case, they ran a campaign offering a Whopper for a penny after the individual visits a McDonald’s location. All a customer would need is the Burger King app, which would give anyone within the distance of two football fields of a McDonald’s, the discounted Whopper.

Burger King marketed the campaign as the Whopper Detour, which instructed customers to actually go to their competitor’s location. 

Sending people to your competitor’s location goes against pretty much everything I was taught in marketing courses.

It also nixes the old thinking of locking down a Home Base, the safeguarded retail location. McDonald’s, and their numerous restaurant sites, could suddenly be used against them. 

I think if Burger King’s trolling were translated into military school terms, there would have been fists thrown.


In military school, there is always the nerdy kid that would rather sit in his room and play his Nintendo and eat snacks. This kid is quiet, a pacifist, and for that, he’s picked on but mostly left alone.

Nerdy pacifism is his voice, it wouldn’t sound right if he were suddenly to start clowning people. I have seen it happen when the nerdy kid has had enough with bullying and returns fire.

When the nerdy kid tries to clown, everyone looks up immediately. It’s not what anyone is expecting, it’s not his voice. 

Likewise, if your company is looking to recreate some of the magic that Wendy’s or Moonpie have created with a snarky online voice, you better be sure that that voice doesn’t run counter to the voice you already have established.

McDonald’s online voice leaves them as a bit of a sitting duck with their perceived online values that run counter to entering the fray of insults. For McDonald’s, “families come first. After that, it can be the average worker who needs a quick bite on the road. Essentially, the backbone of America.”

McDonald’s is #1, so why would they need to lower to the insults of a #6 or #7? This is where my military school anecdote drives off a cliff.

In military school, this scenario would automatically end in a fight. It doesn’t matter how wack nerdy kid’s insult is or how devastating your comeback is; if you let it ride, you will be labeled “a bitch.”  

I never made fun of the nerdy kids because A) I didn’t want to fight my friends, and B) heaven forbid I lose that fight.


Wendy’s, MoonPie, Burger King, and others have delighted online audiences because they found a voice that fits their online brand. On the other hand, if a brand already has a voice and tone, messaging that is antithetical to it can seem flat or worse, disingenuous.

The other danger is not being funny, as with this feeble meme attempt by Ruffles. The tweet got a lot more attention for being wrong than right.

Companies who want to go the troll route better find someone genuinely funny to take the wheel. If that someone succeeds, he or she will need to keep up with the demands of besting all comers consistently. 

The Twilight Zones’ closing narration for “A Game of Pool” immediately comes to mind “being the best [at] anything carries with it a special obligation to keep on proving it.”

And, hey, if you want some other good military school hacks or think I’m way off base let me know in the comments.


Leave a Reply