What’s all the fuss about unhinged marketing?

Brands are now giving casual threats to consumers if they choose their competitors or take a pause from using their services. This ‘psychotic’ behaviour has found its way into consumers' hearts, resulting in loyalty for brands. Called unhinged marketing, from Duolingo to Mumbai Police, many brands have started having fun with it. We dive deep into the science behind this unapologetic brand communication.

Sneha Medda
New Update
unhinged marketing

Imagine a character with traits of Charles Boyle, Gina Linetti, and Jake Peralta in one — a deathly combo indeed. While this character is yet to grace the earth, a version of it can be seen in unhinged marketing. 

Just like an unhinged person, unhinged marketing is when brands embrace bold and unconventional content to grab attention. It's usually self-obsessed and seemingly breaks the fourth wall by engaging with the audience directly. The language appears more human-like and stands out for its ‘crazy’ personality in a group of normies.  


One of the early examples of unhinged marketing is when Wendy's told one of its followers to find new friends when they mentioned its competitor.

Kind of crazy, isn’t it? If you think this is extreme, wait till you see what the internet’s popular Owl, Duo of Duolingo does on social media. It goes to extreme lengths for its loyal customers, giving casual threats. These sly, sarcastic, and uncanny comments that the mascot engages in seem to drive more engagement for the brand. In the span of a year, the app’s social media presence in India has soared to 140K from 10K. Similarly, Liquid Death boasts a following of over 3 million.

This psychotic owl and other brands that have explored unhinged content have seen consumers responding well to it. Not only is it visible in their engagement numbers but they have also developed a loyal fan base on social media, thanks to this possessive behaviour. 

Sometimes it just doesn’t make sense. Like this video by Scrub Daddy that looks like it was edited on a ‘microwave’ or simply this bizarre video by Duo. 

 And yet it does. Look at the comments. You would find many comments just ‘simping’ over the brand’s mascot like, “I love u duo.’



We rest our case. 

No wonder more brands are taking this edgy path or are at least intrigued by it. 

But what’s all the fuss about?

Saksham Jadon, CEO and Founder of Youngun shared a few psychological reasons why this content format works for consumers. 

“Humans are naturally drawn to contrast. For instance, if someone we've known for a long time suddenly acts out of character, even for a brief moment, it sticks in our minds. Similarly, the 'unhinged marketing' strategy provides a stark contrast in the brand world, changing people’s perception of the brand,” said Jadon.  

Take Google India’s content for instance. In the thousands of informative posts, you will occasionally find some contrasting posts like the one below on spending chwenchy’ rupees. 

Sharing another reason why it works, Viren Sean Noronha, Co-founder, The New Thing said that unhinged marketing is a direct route to high engagement. He added, “In an era where results seem to be the general goal, it’s a no-brainer that it’s gained the popularity it has.”

He further said that unhinged marketing is closest to the kind of content the internet enjoys, loves and, most importantly, shares.

Here’s an example of a brand that went unhinged, embracing its ‘coquette core’ and saw high engagement by generating 200K+ likes and 900+ comments. 

All in all, embracing unconventionality on the internet is helping brands stand out from the crowd, drawing in more audiences and fostering deeper engagement — achieving the ultimate goal in the race.

It’s Gen Z approved

It could be hard to believe that this is a post made by an airline company but it is. If you laugh at Ryanair’s post, congratulations, you can officially be called Gen Z now. Experts believe that this generation loves unhinged content because it's a direct reflection of their personality. 

Describing Gen Z’s traits and similarities between unhinged content, Noronha said, “It’s an homage of Gen Z’s collective persona - radical, edgy, deliberately random and playfully unpredictable.”

According to a recent report, a third of Gen Z respondents in India said ‘bad taste in memes’ was their top turn-off.

And by its nature, unhinged marketing is quirky and often out of place, which is especially appealing to Gen Z. 

Srishti Modi Founder - Lesssgo said, “Gen Z appreciate the shitposting, the anomalies, the irregularities and are more keen on discussing that on social. Gen Z is also able to see through the bullshit, so it naturally feels more authentic when a brand is not being “too correct” on social.”

While Gen Z is mostly the target audience for unhinged content, Saksham Jadon believes it could work for anyone. 

He said, “This marketing strategy is designed to appeal to a broad range of consumers. It doesn't have a specific target audience; it simply works on the fundamentals of grabbing the attention of any user.”

Where is it working?

If the (majority) of the TG is Gen Z, a brand will certainly go where they spend the most time. A report by Morning Consult states that 35% of Gen Zers spend over four hours a day on social media. This is where brands are unleashing their true unhinged selves. 

Srishti Modi said, “With social’s pace of content creation and evolution and the sheer decentralisation of content, a lot of brands are now choosing to go unhinged to keep the attention on their side.” 

Platforms like Instagram, X (Twitter) and others help in community building and unhinged content is all about gaining consumer loyalty. 

Rohan Mukherjee, Co-Founder, byooooob said, “Platforms like Instagram & TikTok reward the engagement this quirky content sparks, building brand communities through shared laughter and a sense of being "in on the joke" together.”

Even LinkedIn, which was always called a sacred place for ‘business talks’, has changed. Brands are experimenting with new formats here, too. 

HubSpot, an American marketing solutions provider, recently decided to change its tonality on the platform. It went all Gen Z with its witty one-liners and funny content. 

While social media is a natural fit, experts see it expanding to other platforms as well.

Saksham Jadon said, “Unconventional marketing tactics can be highly effective outside of just social media platforms.” 

Cred’s ad featuring former cricketer Rahul Dravid went viral for being unconventional in 2021. In the ad, the usually calm and poised cricketer was seen losing his cool over traffic. The caption for the ad read, ‘Hi, this is Rahul Dravid writing the description for this video. Sorry, I lost my temper there. I am meditating these days. Well, I am just writing this to let you know that CRED truly rewards you every time you pay your credit card bills on time. They are good people.’ 

This ad wasn't limited to just social media and can be included in the unhinged bucket of content. 

Speaking about unhinged content’s relevance across mediums, Viren Sean Noronha said, “Look around you. We live in unhinged times. I absolutely agree that going unhinged on-ground, on television can work wonders. We live in a world of predictability, especially in marketing.” 

Last year, Ajio collaborated with Khali and delivered a giant box using a crane. The brand travelled with the large box on the road, sparking curiosity and generating buzz among onlookers. 

Okay, should all brands go unhinged?

While experts believe that not all brands will hop on the trend, they also think that these brands are missing out on a niche audience. 

Srishti Modi said, “Not all brands can even choose to go unhinged.  Luxury brands or those built on aesthetics and design might not entirely benefit from this approach. Brands built on trust and seriousness might feel that unhinged is not for them but I believe they are truly missing out on surprising people and really standing out. Imagine HDFC bank making a ganji chudail video.”

Global brands like Dollar Shave Club and Scrub Daddy have tried being unhinged, too. 

As more global brands are accepting this trend, experts believe Indian brands can follow suit. 

Viren Sean Noronha thinks that more brands should try their hands at this technique. He said, “It’s not a question of try, it’s a question of do brands have the stamina to see it through. Any change in strategy is noticed by the audience and reflects in the numbers. If you have the stamina to see it through and find your version of unhinged content. Power to you. You now know something your competitors don’t.”

Follow this to become truly unhinged 

To really stand out, brands need to cultivate a bold and unconventional persona that catches their audience's eye. However, diving into the world of 'unhinged' marketing should be done with some careful consideration. Here are some tips that experts suggest brands should follow to develop an unhinged marketing plan:

Let the creative juices flow 

Social media can be a challenging game to play when it comes to marketing. And having a brand or manager who stifles the expression of creative thoughts can be exhausting. 

Experts suggest that brands should empower their creative team to unleash their creativity. Social media is a compounding game, and success often comes with time.

One way to do this is to hire the correct person who understands your brand and the consumer’s wants. Rohan Mukherjee recommends hiring younger individuals who have a sense of humour and silliness, as well as strategists or creative directors who know how to strike the right chords and avoid crossing boundaries.

Abandon competitiveness 

Last year as a New Year’s collab, Blinkit and its parent company Zomato took to the billboards and used an iconic Bollywood dialogue to connect with the audience. Soon this quirky Zomato Blinkit post caught the internet’s attention and it turned into a topical post. 

Many other brands followed suit with their twists. Although these posts shared a similar vibe, they all received good engagement on the internet.

Despite these trends seeing success, experts say that often brands abandon the idea of following a certain trend just because their competitors have already done it. Saksham Jadon suggests that brands should let go of the competitive mindset that restrains them from exploring new ideas. He said, “This attitude stifles creativity and limits potential engagement.”

Instead, brands should focus on one main criterion: whether their audience would appreciate and engage with the idea.

Drop the rules 

One would expect a police force's social media presence to mirror the seriousness of their job, right? But a quick look at the Mumbai Police’s social media would change that thought. Their social media is famously known for having a casual tone when engaging with the audience. Their posts range from witty lock-up threats to humorous ways of cautioning the public about unlawful behaviour. 

Saksham Jadon said that to truly embrace an unhinged brand strategy, companies should be willing to step outside the boundaries they've set for themselves, as long as it resonates with their audience and drives engagement. 

Viren Noronha suggests that other ‘serious’ brands should also drop hubris around ‘premium looking’ visuals and nicely designed posts because social media doesn’t care.

Laughter sells, and it sells well. So you like it or not, unhinged content is here to stay. It's on your daily social media scroll and sometimes plastered on the side of a bus. Whether you embrace the trend or decide to give it a pass, depends on your brand ethos. But like Rohan Mukherjee said, “Once you have that system in place, please please just have fun.” 

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