Trolling for Publicity



As someone who is far removed from Internet culture, the act of “trolling” people is a foreign concept.  However, it is becoming apparent that I need to catch up with the times as companies are beginning to use this practice in their advertising.  For those of you who have fallen behind like me, don’t worry, I’ll bring you up to speed.

To “troll”, or the act of “trolling”, involves starting arguments or upsetting people on the Internet by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages, often with the intent of provoking others (“Troll (internet),” 2014).  This has become a common practice on websites such as Reddit, Facebook, and other websites incorporating dialogue and message sharing.

As this act is becoming more well known and recognizable, some companies have begun trolling their consumers as part of their advertising and publicity techniques.  One of the most recent and talked about examples of this came from the twitter account of JCPenny during the 2014 Super Bowl.  During the game, the JCPenny account tweeted out some misspelled comments about the event, including, “Who kkmew theis was ghiong tob e a baweball ghamle” and “Toughdown Seadawks” (Heine, 2014).  These tweets led to speculation over the sobriety of the person who controls the twitter account and quickly started trending throughout the social media site.  It was not until later that JCPenny sent out another tweet explaining that the typos were caused by the account manager wearing mittens while typing (Heine, 2014).  As a result, JCPenny received a lot of publicity for their faux-drunk tweets and then directed that attention towards an advertisement for a product.  In simpler terms, the company trolled the Twitter world in an attempt to get free publicity.

JCPenny is not the only company to pull a stunt like this.  In the past year, Sports Illustrated trolled their consumers by pretending to put Barbie on the cover of their swimsuit edition magazine while Groupon referred to Alexander Hamilton as a past United States president (Griner, 2014).  While trolling consumers provides another unique way to interact with the public, its effectiveness is still up for debate.  The three examples mentioned above each caused an increase in media coverage and conversation (i.e. 40,000 retweets for the JCPenny tweets), but not necessarily in a positive light (Griner, 2014).  Consumer loyalty often resides on the trust between a company and its customers, and trolling could decrease that trust.  For this technique to be successful, a company must understand its consumer base and know that joking around is appropriate for the relationship.  If so, then do not be surprised if more acts of trolling to hit the industry.



Griner, D. (2014, February 23). Year of the troll: Brands learn to love messing with consumers. Retrieved from

Heine, C. (2014, February 02). Jcpenny isn’t drunk tweeting the super bowl – it’s wearing mittens. Retrieved from

Sports Illustrated. (Composer). (2014, February 12). Barbie to feature in this year’s SI swimsuit issue [Web Photo]. Retrieved from

Troll (internet). (2014, February 22). Retrieved from

4 thoughts on “Trolling for Publicity

  1. I think that trolling is a really creative idea and can definitely help a company with its publicity, especially in the case of JCPenny. But I also agree that if communicated to the wrong audience, it could be somewhat of a disaster. Companies need to make sure that they are appealing to the proper audience, and using trolling strategically.


  2. I always here the word “trolling” from my friends, but it’s really interesting that it’s a method in gaining publicity. I think what JC Penney did during the Super Bowl was a great idea especially when reading all the replies from other brands. It got the Twittersphere talking. Definitely if done wrong, trolling could send out the wrong message.


  3. I think that consumers have become so picky about how they are marketed to by companies. With trolling becoming a more common practice I think that people will find it refreshing and humorous when a company uses trolling to advertise.


  4. I think trolling can be funny if it is used effectively. JCPenny is losing a lot of money and are trying really hard to stay relevant. I think it was a decent attempt to do something young and interesting but I didn’t find it amusing.


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