Are Funny Complaint Letters Effective?

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Anyone who tries writing a funny complaint letter quickly realizes (or should) how difficult  it is to strike the correct tone—so the letter reads as amusing rather than insulting. If we misjudge the humor, our letter can sound offensive, condescending, angry or sarcastic, all of which will render it ineffective in terms of getting the result we want. However the biggest danger such efforts face is simply coming across as—not funny.

The goal of a humorous complaint letter is to make it stand out and get a response. However, to do so, the letter must include all the traditional elements of a complaint; a clear description of the problem or incident, the necessary details and the request for redress. Including all these particulars and doing so in a way that is genuinely funny is truly no easy task.

Let’s look at two examples of complaints and the differences between effective and ineffective attempts at humor.

Complaints about Airline Food:

In 2010, a man traveling on Ryanair complained that he was served a chicken sandwich which suffered from being “Too rubbery,” and appeared markedly different than it did in the menu photo (as many of us do, the sandwich apparently used a photo that implied it was better looking than it was in reality). I cannot know for sure whether the man used humor when voicing his ‘rubber chicken’ complaint but what I do know is that his complaint was so angry, he was arrested by sky marshals.

We all feel angry when complaining but if we wish to complain in humor, the anger cannot be too dominant. Let’s illustrate the point by examining another complaint about airline food:

A passenger on a Virgin Atlantic flight in 2008 was so appalled by the meal he received he wrote to Sir Richard Branson (President of Virgin) and included pictures of his meal. After a polite and respectful opening, he embedded the following image and said,

“Look at this Richard. Just look at it. I imagine the same questions are racing through your brilliant mind as were racing through mine on that fateful day. What is this? Why have I been given it? You don’t get to a position like yours Richard with anything less than a generous sprinkling of observational power so I KNOW you will have spotted the tomato next to the two yellow shafts of sponge on the left. Yes, it’s next to the sponge shaft without the green paste. That’s got to be the clue hasn’t it?”

The man went on to describe the second dish: “On the left we have a piece of broccoli and some peppers in a brown, glue-like oil, and on the right the chef had prepared some mashed potato. The potato masher had obviously broken and so it was decided the next best thing would be to pass the potatoes through the digestive tract of a bird.”

Lastly, he described the shrink wrapped desert: “I needed a sugar hit. Luckily, there was a small cookie provided. It had caught my eye earlier because of its baffling presentation:  It appears to be in an evidence bag from the scene of a crime. A crime against bloody cooking. Either that or some sort of backstreet, underground cookie, purchased off a gun-toting maniac high on his own supply of yeast.”

While the anger is evident in the letter, it is far overshadowed by the humor and that is what makes the complaint so effective. How effective? The passenger received a personal call of apology from Sir Richard Branson himself.

Complaints about Feminine Hygiene Products:

The following letter was written to Procter & Gamble in 2007.

“Have you ever had a menstrual period, Mr. Thatcher? Ever suffered from “the curse”? I’m guessing you haven’t. Well, my “time of the month” is starting right now. As I type, I can already feel hormonal forces violently surging through my body. Just a few minutes from now, my body will adjust and I’ll be transformed into what my husband likes to call “an inbred hillbilly with knife skills.” Isn’t the human body amazing?

As brand manager in the feminine-hygiene division, you’ve no doubt seen quite a bit of research on what exactly happens during your customers’ monthly visits from Aunt Flo. Therefore, you must know about the bloating, puffiness, and cramping we endure, and about our intense mood swings, crying jags, and out-of-control behavior. You surely realize it’s a tough time for most women.

Which brings me to the reason for my letter. Last month, while in the throes of cramping so painful I wanted to reach inside my body and yank out my uterus, I opened an Always maxi pad, and there, printed on the adhesive backing, were these words: Have a Happy Period. Are you fucking kidding me?”

The letter went on in much the same vein. Although it is posted on various websites, it is unclear whether the woman’s letter ever got a response and there is some doubt as to whether it was ever sent to the company. Even if the letter had been sent, it is likely to have been ineffective. Why? Despite the obvious humor, the letter was laced with profanity and unnecessarily cringe-worthy, graphic descriptions (for example, of male genitalia getting shoved into a grill). Cursing and profane graphic details are just like anger in that they only distract the complaint recipient from the message of the actual complaint.

Let’s examine another letter about a similar issue, this one written by Write the Company a website devoted to posting hilarious letters to companies and the company’s response. Here is an excerpt from a letter they wrote to the makers of o.b. tampons.

“I’m writing on behalf of my friend Brooklyn…According to Brooklyn, Super size o.b. Tampons aren’t so super anymore because they’re now more like the size of a small regular. She claims they used to be the size of the current Ultra Plus. As a guy, I’m not sure what any of this means. All I know is if I’m getting the Super size of anything, I want fries and a beverage with it, too.

…I believe Brooklyn’s primary problem is related to absorption. She used the word “Monsoon” to describe her flow. At that point I wanted to do what most people do when a monsoon is coming — RUN like hell! This brings me to my next question: Is the o.b. Tampons Super size actually too small for some women? Should I suggest she insert two of them to make up for the shortfall? Why has this size worked up until now and all of a sudden she finds herself up a creek without a paddle with a monsoon on the way?”

The humor in this letter does not obscure the message of the complaint because the descriptions are funny without being offensively graphic. As a result, the company indeed responded to the complaint and the letter was even referenced in a New York Times article about o.b. and the shrinking tampon debacle.

The bottom line is that most of us should avoid using humor when writing complaint letters as we are unlikely to have the skill to do so well enough to get a result. I have performed stand-up comedy hundreds of times, yet the only humorous complaint letter I ever dared attempting was one I wrote to Tony Hsieh the CEO of Zappos.com, and I risked doing so only because my complaint was not exactly…real. You can read the letter and hear about the response here.

Have you come across funny but effective complaint letters? Feel free to share them with us in the comment section below.

Copyright 2011 Guy Winch

Follow me on Twitter @GuyWinch

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3 Comments for Are Funny Complaint Letters Effective?

Jamie Kirby

I tried writing a humourous complaint letter just a few days ago to Tesco. I was attempting to get them to bring Cherry Onken yoghurts back to their shelf. I have yet to receive an answer…so maybe they don’t work – here is what I wrote.

Dear Tesco (West Jesmond branch),
I am writing concerning the recent removal of Cherry flavoured Onken yoghurts from your fridges.
Although I understand that ‘cherry’ is not part of the infamous ‘trident’ of traditional yoghurt flavours (Strawberry, Banana and Chocolate), it is the only one of the Onken variety to satisfy my taste buds adequately. Furthermore, the regular stocking ‘Mango, Papaya and Passion Fruit’ flavour is bewildering, being about as far from conventional as flavours go.
As far as ‘Strawberry’ flavours go, I am usually a big fan. Before moving into the world of Onken, I was extremely satisfied with the Tesco brand strawberry yoghurts (which I had to move from due to your abhorrent price rise from 25p to 45p last month, but that’s a different story). These were a much more convenient size, as they can be eaten in one sitting, and the fact that they were stored in those trays in store was excellent, as I could simply grab two or three trays of them, pay, and stack them in my fridge at home. Although I realise that you have wisely brought the price of these yoghurts back down to an affordable 25p, I could not possibly go back to them, having tasted the wonders of cherry Onken. It was this reason that I was so reluctant at first to move into the branded yoghurts, as I did not want to acquire a taste for the finer things. However, it has happened and, as expected, I can never go back. It’s like watching Brighton & Hove Albion play after the Barcelona match has finished – still respectable, but dampened by the lingering memory of what you have just witnessed before hand – a process Psychologists know as ‘Order Effects.’
I suppose I can’t rule out the possibility that the yoghurts have been moved to another part of the store. For one, I am not always the most observant person. For example, I only recently noticed that there are two Oxfam shops within 30 strides of each other (perplexingly) outside your shop, despite having lived here for 7 months. A second support for this possibility would be that, for such a small shop, the Tesco Metro in West Jesmond is often very difficult to navigate, due to some elementary layout decisions. Last week I developed a craving for some 85% cocoa dark chocolate, and speculated that Tesco might have some. Upon inspecting the snacks and confectionery section in the far corner of the store (opposite the formerly well-stocked yoghurt fridge) which contains crisps, biscuits, chocolate bars and the like, I could not locate anything to satisfy my dark chocolate needs, and was forced to purchase plain chocolate digestive biscuits. However, to my surprise, when buying a Newspaper on Sunday from the second isle of your shop, I turned around to encounter a new confectionery stand, which I had never seen before (I don’t regularly buy papers, but it was the first day of the new ‘Sunday Sun’, and so thought I would keep it, as a historical artifact). This stand contained numerous bars of dark chocolate, from a variety of brands (although suprisingly not Green & Blacks), which please me immensely. The placement of this stand though, so far away from the rest of the snack section, leads me to believe that the cherry Onkens could frankly be anywhere; perhaps in the cigarette counter or a third snack stand.
However, the fact that the other Onkens remain in their usual place all but rules out this possibility, and so I am forced to believe that you have cast my new favourite yoghurts aside, forcing me to indulge in only dark chocolate as a light snack. In turn, I fear that I may eventually become overweight, and eventually obese. This may seem unlikely, as an extra couple of squares of dark chocolate a day is not an awful lot. However, as you say, every little helps.
Finally, I urge you to try the strawberry and cherry Onkens and compare the two. I realise that we all have different expectations, needs and necessities when it comes to food, but I can assure you that the blandness of the strawberry, and the orgasmic sensation attached the cherry, will unite our yoghurt-eating choices. An immediate reinstatement of the cherry Onken should follow, and the ’3 for £3′ offer should remain. If the offer does change, I will most likely consider other options, but until then I would rather that I was allowed to make that choice myself.

Thankyou for your time, and I hope to hear from you soon.
Sincerley,
Jamie William Kirby

I will let you know if I get a response!

    Guy

    Brilliant letter!
    The only question I have is whether you sent it to a specific person at Tesco’s or to their customer service or manager at the branch. Using a specific name is best and it shouldn’t be too difficult to look up the name of the branch manager or just ask someone when you’re next there. You might enjoy the website writethecompany.com that sends funny complaints to companies and publishes their responses. Alas, their response rate is not high, indicating many companies fail to respond and even more fail to get the humor in a funny letter. Lastly, you might enjoy my complaint letter to Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, which did get a response and a prompt one at that: http://www.guywinch.com/my-letter-to-tony-hsieh/
    Do keep us posted on whether you hear back–yogurts are wonderful things indeed…
    GW

Gina B.

I started writing funny complaint letters and turned them into a blog. I’ve gotten many great responses and a large fan base. Check it out!

theginayes.blogspot.com

I convinced Chipotle to extend their hours, got free bus tour tickets at locations around the country, received complimentary gift certificates from various restaurants and bars, and added a wine glass to the emoji application to name a few.

Here’s an example of one I wrote to a tour bus company in Miami. Enjoy!

Hello,

I wanted to speak to someone regarding a situation that I encountered on a Miami Big Bus Tour the other day. As I am a broke college student, I had been looking forward to this tour for quite some time and had to save a pretty penny in order to fund your services. I do have to say that your tour is of the finest in the area and allowed me to educate myself on the history of this wonderful city, immerse myself in its culture, and catch some rays along the way. However, there was a specific instance that I want to bring to your attention regarding hazardous palm trees that interfered with my trip. Five minutes into the ride, I was caught off-guard by a palm tree branch that nearly decapitated me while traveling 25-30 mph. It was a rather startling experience and by the time I recovered from the first hit, I got attacked for a second time. Repeatedly, this kept occurring, as though I was being beat or punished for getting on the bus. I was trying my hardest to learn about the historic architecture and Jewish memorials that were built upon Miami’s sacred grounds, but I simply couldn’t focus, as I had to play defense for the remaining miles to come. This torture occurred to me because I unknowingly chose a seat on the farthest left side of the bus. If I had been warned ahead of time, I could have easily manipulated my sister into taking that seat, and there wouldn’t have been a problem. At the time, I was oblivious to this fact and and am now leaving my vacation with battle wounds while she returns home with the flawless tan. In order to fix this problem and prevent others from acquiring this unforeseen palm tree paranoia that I now suffer with, I have provided you with a few recommendations:
Trim all palm trees within the five mile tour zone on Collins Ave.
Provide protective head gear and eye wear for all passengers sitting on the farthest left side of the bus
I am not a scientist, but growth hormones to extend the height of the palm trees is probably a possibility if not now, in the near future
Provide me with some sort of refund or souvenir for undergoing this unpleasant experience
Although I had this unfortunate experience, I am sure that the rest of the passengers that were not abused traveled back home and raved about your services to their friends and families. From what I remember of the tour, it was enlightening and educational and am sure there was a reasonable explanation for this minor obstruction. Thank you very much for listening and I hope to hear back soon.

Sincerely,

Gina

Gina,

Thanks for contacting us with your concerns. I would be remiss if I did not mention to you that this is far and away one of the most entertaining emails I’ve read in a long time! What comes to mind first is that if you ever find yourself wanting to live in a city where we operate, you would make a great tour guide.

I can most certainly send along complimentary passes for our tour Miami, should you choose to brave the adventure again, in addition to our other US cities – Las Vegas, Washington DC and San Francisco. These passes do not expire.

Would you be so kind to send me your address?

Thank you,

Hi Julia,

Thank you very much for the quick response! I really appreciate the outstanding customer service along with your understanding toward the situation. I would really appreciate the complimentary passes and could possibly use them to persuade my family to take me on a trip to Vegas this summer. My address is:

As of now, I am lined up to begin life in corporate America in Chicago this Fall. However, if that doesn’t work out it is nice to know that I might have a calling as a tour guide out in Sin City. I’ll keep you contact information close at hand if the situation arises.

Again, thank you very much!

Best regards,

Gina