Satire is complex, and whether we like to admit it, we’ve all fallen victim into thinking a satirical article is in fact serious. A momentary lapse in judgement can be forgiven, but taking the time to respond publicly to a satirical piece concerning you or your business can backfire tremendously.

This week, satirical news portal ‘Bis-Serjetà’ posted an article headlined: ‘’Peasant’ kicked out of Greens for carrying Lidl bag’. The humorous article detailed the story of a fictional Mark Chetcuti, 34, from Attard, who was shopping at Greens supermarkets’ upmarket Mriehel branch, but was kicked out after being spotted holding a reusable canvas bag from Lidl, an extremely popular discount supermarket on the island.

Some hours later, in response, Greens’ social media executives promptly replied with a statement that, at first glance, could have been interpreted as satire, given how seriously they took the matter:

Greens, failing to see that it was a completely satirical and fictional article honing in on the nuances between Malta’s many supermarkets and their clientele, wrote that the article goes against its “core principles”, and that the business “does not tolerate any form of discrimination”.

The company’s social media statement goes on to say that upon “learning” of the article, Greens “immediately initiated an investigation into the matter”.

It also got in contact with Bis-Serjetà, “to address any misunderstandings” and ensure that its stance is accurately represented.

“We want to emphasise that Greens Supermarket is committed to providing a welcoming environment for all customers and employees, regardless of any characteristic.”

Commentators under Greens’ statement, understandably, tore the statement to shreds. Many were incredulous about the response, failing to understand how the company’s marketing managers did not realise it was satire.

As previously stated, it’s a slip up that we’ve all fallen victim to. Within a professional context, when employees are rushing from one task to the next, eager to please upper management, it’s easy to make a bad judgement under pressure.

However, how you respond to a momentary lapse in judgement is crucial, especially when the source of the dismay, the Bis-Serjetà article in this case, concerns an entire company, and not a private individual.

How to spot satire

While it can be difficult to understand satire, with some even describing this as a skill, there are a few common threads that tend to expose whether content is satire or not:

  • It lacks respect and appears to be irreverent
  • It is politically incorrect
  • It says what people often say in private, but are not comfortable to do so in public
  • The concept or story is way over-the-top
  • It’s funny
  • It describes something surreal as though it is normal

How to respond to satire

Responding to a satirical piece of content, especially when it concerns you, can be a dicey affair. For politicians, many agree that the best course of action is not to respond. As a voluntary member in the public eye, attracting criticism and ridicule is par for the course. If you are a private individual or company, here are some tips that can help things along:

  • Take a minute before responding
    • Calm down and take a breather. Quick reactions, even if that means sending along the satirical content internally to escalate, can create unhelpful momentum. Instead, pause and reflect, and re-read the piece
  • Check out who is posting
    • Take some more time to explore the poster, and delve into other content they have published to give you a better idea of the overall voice of the platform
  • Research the author/platform of the satirical piece
    • A quick google search can save a lot of embarrassment
  • Discuss internally about whether a response should be provided at all
    • If the satirical content goes over the line, and in your view breaches the limits of what is acceptable, you may wish to issue a statement disassociating yourself from the item, while acknowledging that it is satire (this part’s important)
    • In other cases, it makes sense to respond in a humorous way, showing the public and your clients that you are able to take a good joke on the chin

Indeed, the morning after Greens’ moment in the spotlight, it issued a further post, this time following along with the satirical article by claiming that one of its robot employees “finally admitted” to calling a customer a peasant, and has offered a “heartfelt apology”.

The company took the opportunity to market its offers, capitalising on the traction that this latest response is bound to get:

“The robot has vowed to redeem itself by carrying as many offers as humanly…, robotically possible starting today. Stay tuned for more robo-promo-drama!”

And, while Greens Supermarkets’ marketing team likely had an unpleasant evening following their initial response to the satire, the old adage that there’s no such thing as bad press rings true, with several media outlets writing about the humorous exchange and many people discussing the supermarket in question.

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Written By

Helena Grech

Helena is an avid follower of current affairs, leading her to take an interest in economics, politics and the environment. She is quite content to spend time in nature, and is often found having noisy debates with friends.