Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 5.15.13 PM

Ever since Oreo’s social media team won major props for the ‘You can dunk in the dark’ tweet during the 2013 Super Bowl blackout, brands have been looking for a current event wave to ride. Success stories (Chobani, Pantene) exist, but so do disastrous ones such as this week’s fiasco from DiGiorno. The pizza company piggybacked on #WhyIStayed, a hashtag meant to give a voice to domestic abuse survivors, with a joke implying that pizza was the reason why one victim stayed. A few other brands used the anniversary of the September 11 attacks as an opportunity to express grief (and keep the brand top of mind). Even though the messages about 9/11 were not offensive, many didn’t take well to use of the tragedy as a marketing device.

On the latest episode of ‘Last Week Tonight’ John Oliver gave brands a valuable social media lesson: it’s ok to be silent, or decline to participate in a trend. Oliver likened Twitter to a cocktail party, where strangers and friends meet and chat. Corporations are not invited, and are even more unwelcome when they take someone’s mention of a dying grandmother as an invitation to pitch. A helpful hint from Oliver: Nobody will be offended that a brand didn’t offer condolences to the victims of a tragedy.

For brands looking for Twitter followers, Oliver offered to retweet any brand that tweeted the following:

#WeUnderstandThatAsCorporateEntitiesOurPresenceinCertainDiscussions
IsNotAlwaysRequiredSoWeWillStriveToLimitOurActivitiestoJustSellingYouShit.

Last Week Tonight has 158,000 followers. Therefore, a retweet could be more effective than participating in any trending hashtag. See full video here.

L2's Daily Insights in Your Inbox.