Brands Are Not Our Friends

Comcast sent me 10 pizzas. This isn’t nice; it’s manipulative.

I didn’t realize how seriously companies take social media until last year, when I opened my front door and saw a delivery guy holding a stack of pizza boxes up to his chin.

Comcast had recently started advertising mobile-phone service where I live. Given that Comcast and AT&T were already the only local choices for broadband and cable, the move felt like an ominous sign of even more industry consolidation. I took to Twitter to air this worry. “It’s nice that Comcast is offering mobile phone service now,” I posted. “But until I can get Comcast delivery pizza I will remain empty inside.”

It wasn’t the best joke I’d made on the internet, but Comcast didn’t mind. The company saw my tweet and responded: “Hey Ian, you rang? DM us the address where you would like it delivered & we’ll make it happen.” I thought I was calling Comcast’s bluff by answering that I wanted gluten-free mushroom pizza, and that because I was a customer, the company should know my address. “Do your brand thang,” I quipped.

This was hardly my first digital interaction with a corporation. DiGiorno Pizza was my Twitter buddy for a while, although we seem to have fallen out of touch. I once scorned Jolly Ranchers, only to have the brand chat me up moments later. Northern Tool, a tool and machinery company, chimed in on a photo I tweeted of its catalog. Cinnabon helped me win a dispute about how to pronounce its product (“like James Bond”). I assumed these brands targeted me because I have a decent Twitter following and write often for The Atlantic. And I thought I knew how these conversations went—they were quick and lighthearted, mildly amusing if also a bit invasive. Mostly, they were forgettable.

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