It’s nice when a company sees the funny side

A few weeks ago, a man called Jamie Jones tweeted a letter from We Buy Any Car (hereon WBAC because life is too short to type that out over and over). He’d offered them a toy car, and they’d said, essentially, ‘No, we don’t want to buy your toy car even though we’re called We Buy Any Car.’ The letter went viral. It was exactly the kind of corporate telling-off that you’d expect from a big company: ‘The frequency in which you refer to the toy as a vehicle annoyed us’, so do ‘refrain from contacting us again’. We all laughed (well, smirked) because Mr Jennings – the author of the letter – wrote in such a hoity-toity tone. It’s fun to laugh at officiousness, and we all recognise that haughty corporate attitude.

But the letter was a fake. (Of course it was – nobody sends letters anymore.)

And as it turns out, WBAC reacted pretty well to the spoof, using the whole thing to flash a nicer side of their personality. They took to Twitter straightaway; ‘We do love the colour of the Little Tikes and it’s clearly in good condition – but toy cars are just not our area of specialty... maybe Jamie should try eBay?’

And then they leapt into action with webuyanytoycar.com. The site lets users donate their old toy cars. For each, WBAC will give a tenner to charity. Their tone is adorable: ‘We’re not saying we’re experts in buying toy cars, but we just can’t get enough of those Tikes – their red and yellow bodywork, zero carbon emissions and pedal power just make us happy.’

Over the years, there’s been a lot of academic research into theories of humour and what makes a gag work. Jamie Jones’ initial joke was all about laughing at superiority – the (made-up) authority-complex of a big company. But WBAC subverted that with another type of humour; the humour of the unexpected. They used the opportunity to step out from behind the corporate spiel and say, ‘Hey, look. We make jokes too.’ In short, they proved what we’ve been saying for ages; that when companies show personality it’s unusual, fun and refreshing. And it catches our attention in a good way.

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