Here's how it's supposed to work.
When you're a big company, say one worth $100 billion or more, you stay above the fray.
You pose as a great contributor to society. You might even choose to withdraw from offering facial recognition technology.
One thing you shouldn't really do is mock companies that are a lot smaller than you are.
I'm a touch perturbed, therefore, to learn that IBM -- for this is the company on our purple chaise-lounge today -- thought it would make a barbed joke about a relatively small cloud data warehouse company called Yellowbrick.
Worse, IBM made the joke on LinkedIn, the Twitter of the dull, monied and lost.
This was a LinkedIn ad, of a sort, for IBM's Netezza, which sounds like a new, faux-Italian frozen confection and is, in fact, a data warehouse appliance and analytics offering.
The ad read: "Yellow brick roads are for fairy tales. Netezza. There's no place like home."
For its part, Yellowbrick got all Twitter-tweaked, or rather LinkedIn-livid, and hit back with: "Lions and tigers and dinosaurs, oh my! Get true #analytics #innovation for #hybridcloud with Yellowbrick Data."
Please, I don't want to weigh the various merits of these two no-doubt awe-inspiring products. I do want to say that neither of these companies is terribly well-versed in truly cutting social media humor. IBM's painfully gauche attempt at wit is only marginally worse than Yellowbrick's straining for an appropriate Wizard of Oz metaphor.
Still, the psychology fascinates me.
Brand leaders don't stoop to so much as acknowledge the challengers, the upstarty and the startup-y.
For all the jokes that Burger King makes at brand leader McDonald's expense, the big red-and-yellow never responds. Not even archly. It certainly doesn't start mocking Burger King -- partly because it knows Burger King is far better at the art.
Why, then, is IBM going out of its way to mock Yellowbrick, a startup that hasn't even reached unicorn status? It gives Yellowbrick credibility -- which it may or may not deserve. It actually suggests a six-year-old company that isn't yet worth $1 billion is somehow inciting trepidation in IBM's perfectly-coiffed ranks.
I know it's currently popular for the powerful to mock those of slighter status. Ultimately, it doesn't really help your brand.