McSweeney’s tries its hand at brand copywriting

For more than 15 years, McSweeney’s has been an oddball in the world of Internet publishing, drawing the literary types to its website and journals. It is the anti-Business Insider: McSweeney’s embraced being a nonprofit last year.

Yet McSweeney’s is also working with marketers, including Converse, Warby Parker and Airbnb. Unlike most publishers, McSweeney’s doesn’t have a big audience to offer. Instead, it offers something perhaps as valuable: the wry sensibility of its cadre of writers.

In its latest effort with a brand, McSweeney’s linked up with hotel chain Westin and its agency BBH New York to create “Out of Office Generator,” a digital tool that automatically generates tongue-in-cheek responses for people’s email and social media channels. Users put in the details of where they’re going on vacation and the tool spits out a message, written in classic McSweeney’s style.

“It’s an intelligent, elevated wit,” said Daniel Bonder, creative director at BBH New York, who recently worked with McSweeney’s for a campaign for Westin Hotels & Resorts. “Everything they do, they put their own spin on it — and that seemed like the perfect parallel.”

The result is a funny piece of Internet ephemera, only with a surrealist edge.

“Thanks for the message, but I’m out on vacation, swimming with dolphins in a magnificent tropical lagoon. They are beautiful, intelligent creatures, and thanks to my natural empathy and attractive hairstyle, they have accepted me as one of their own,” reads one sample response. “Once I return, I ask that you please address me by the name my adopted pod has given me: Squeeeeeee-eee-e-e-e-eee-eee-e. Thanks in advance!”

McSweeney’s has been a cultural vanguard, with its humor website, books and other literary endeavors such as food magazine Lucky Peach and DVD art movie magazine Wholphin.

For Warby Parker, McSweeney’s and musician Beck helped design a pair of custom eyeglasses and create pop-up events. With Airbnb, it collaborated on neighborhood guides in Los Angeles, including the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, the Arts District, Abbot Kinney, the Viper Room and The Grove. Each guide featured interviews with locals, short essays and tales of lost hipster love, all written by actual McSweeney’s writers.

“We haven’t felt like we’ve had to compromise ourselves so far; it’s a bargain I’ve been happy with,” said Jordan Bass, McSweeney’s editor-in-chief. “Such projects offer a different type of opportunity to our writers and help put more resources toward our passion projects. It’s how we support everything we do here.”

So far, the alliances have come about by brands approaching McSweeney’s themselves. But recently, it’s Bass who’s been doing the outreach.

“I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we can keep doing a few of these,” he said. “It ultimately lets us do more of what we want to do.”

Homepage image via Westin Hotels & Resorts.