Since we’ve established a running theme of looking back to 2012, we might as well take one last peek into the past before heading full-bore into the future. Today, we’re going to look at some of the biggest mess-ups in social advertising; proof positive that many brands still have much to learn about how social advertising functions.
After all, it’s generally accepted that one learns more from failures than they do from successes, and if it’s someone else’s mistake, all the better.
1. Promoting a Shooting
The Incident: On June 20, a mentally unstable young man walked into the Aurora theater in Colorado, which was playing The Dark Knight Rises. Dressed in a garish manner similar to that of Batman’s arch-nemesis, The Joker, he gunned down twelve people and injured seventy more. It was a distressing, disturbing tragedy; one which left the nation shocked.
Apparently, Celeb Boutique thought this would be a good time to promote their brand.
“#Aurora is trending, clearly about our Kim K inspired #Aurora dress .”
Yeah. People weren’t too happy about that. They cited the fact that their PR firm wasn’t based in the US as the reason for the tasteless tweet – apparently, they didn’t understand how to use Google.
Celeb Boutique wasn’t the only organization to mess up, either: American Rifleman decided that it would post a pro-gun tweet right as the shooting happened. In this case, the tweet was pre-scheduled: by the time anyone at American Rifleman realized what was going on, the crisis was in full swing. A lesser flub, but a damaging one just the same.
What We Can Learn: No organization exists in a vacuum. You need to know and understand what’s going on in the world around you if you’re going to truly thrive on a social network – platforms such as Twitter have become major news hubs for people the world over, so if a tragedy should occur, you can bet people will be talking about it. Particularly if you’re in a potentially sensitive industry, do a bit of research before you decide to piggyback on a trending topic.
2. Sandy and Sales
The Incident: As a brand, American Apparel isn’t exactly known for being tasteful, respectful, or intelligent where public relations are concerned – so the promotion the organization tweeted during Hurricane Sandy’s rampage across the East Coast wasn’t particularly surprising for many. “In case you’re bored during the storm,” the teaser image read “20% off everything for the next 36 hours.” Surprising no one, that blew up in their face. What’s truly baffling is that they weren’t the only ones who decided a natural disaster was a great marketing opportunity: The Gap and Urban Outfitters (both subsidiaries) also tweeted similar messages.
What We Can Learn: I can’t believe I’m actually typing this, but never, never, never try to leverage a natural disaster, tragedy, or serious piece of news to sell your products. It comes across as crass, cheesy, and completely and utterly insensitive. Again, it simply boils down to thinking before you tweet/post/share.
3. KitchenAid Hates Obama
The Incident: During the presidential debate in October, Obama mentioned his Grandmother’s passing, I’ll let this tweet from KitchenAid’s official twitter feed speak for itself:
“Obamas gma even knew it was going 2 b bad! She died 3 days b4 he became president. #nbcpolitics.”
Thankfully, the company quickly caught the errant tweet, and immediately deleted it; apologizing to Obama for the offensive content. Evidently, a member of the KitchenAid team mistakenly posted the message from the corporate twitter feed, rather than to their own personal account – which raises the question of why such an individual even had access to KitchenAid’s feed in the first place.
What We Can Learn: There are a few things. First and foremost, you need to ensure that your social media platforms are properly organized so that precisely this sort of flub doesn’t happen. Multiple Twitter accounts are dangerous, and can be catastrophic if not properly juggled. Second, emphasize to your PR team the importance of remaining professional, even outside the workplace. That tweet would have been in exceedingly poor taste even if it were tweeted from a personal account: most businesses wouldn’t want to be affiliated with the individual who’d share something like that.
4. McDStories vs. WaitroseReasons
We’ve already spoken of McDStories in the past, but it’s worth mentioning another organization which attempted a similar approach to McDonalds. Not surprisingly, Waitrose’s hash-tag campaign was hijacked almost immediately. However, unlike with McDstories, the #WaitroseReasons ended up being a success in spite of this. Everybody who hijacked the tag to poke fun at the brand still reinforced its image as a quality, upper-market organization. In other words…their brand was strong to begin with, and a hijacked hashtag campaign made it stronger. It helped that the organization approached the whole crisis with a sense of humor.
What We Can Learn: Comparing the utter failure that was McDStories to WaitroseReasons presents us with a rather clear message: know your brand image before handing control over to your customers. If, like McDonalds, you’ve a broken brand, it’ll show.
5. Mitt Romney Needs No Soical Network
The Incident: While I’m sure there were many reasons Mitt Romney ended up losing to Obama, one could argue that social media certainly played a role. Straight from the beginning, Obama and his group were social network savvy, with fronts on all the major platforms. Romney and his campaign managers, meanwhile, lagged behind; focusing exclusively on old media.
When they finally decided that attempting a foray into newer forms of communication might be a good idea, they completely botched things. First, the “With Mitt” app misspelled America as “Amercia.” Once that screw-up was corrected, the deeper issues with the app became obvious, as it gave the user too much control: it allowed users to post photos using an ad generator. The photo would be punched into the generator, then come out with a campaign slogan. Much as with McDStories, “With Mitt” was hijacked, and proved absolutely disastrous.
What We Can Learn: I’ve said that social advertising isn’t for everyone – and that’s very true. The trick lies in figuring out the right time to ignore the social feeds, and the right time to launch into a marketing campaign. Of course, knowing the difference between a Tweet and a Tag probably helps, too.
6. Complain All you Want; Odeon’s Not Listening
The Incident: Back in August, a dissatisfied customer shared a negative experience on Odeon Cinema’s wall. That’s nothing particularly terrible, unusual, or catastrophic: when a brand establishes an open discourse with consumers, there are bound to be a few who raise a stink, right? Where things started to get hairy was in the fact that the complaint took place on a holiday – meaning there was no one watching Odeon’s wall. The comment now has over 300,000 likes and over 25,000 comments – meaning that any response Odeon could possibly give just got lost in a storm of like-minded individuals, all expressing discontent with the brand.
What We Can Learn: Keep an eye on your social feed, even on holidays – especially on holidays. It’s about good customer service. It only takes a few minutes to fire back a response to a disgruntled customer; but an ignored complaint can quickly steamroll into an all-out brand disaster.
7. The Camry Effect
The Incident: The Superbowl has long been regarded as one of the best times to market one’s brand – many people watch as much for the advertisements as they do for the games, as the marketing industry’s best and brightest all come out to strut their stuff. Toyota decided to go a slightly different route in promoting their new Camry model. In a completely baffling move, they set up several accounts that would automatically tweet anyone who used #Giants or #Patriots hash-tags, informing them of a Superbowl promotion in which participants could win a new car.
Of course, people didn’t much enjoy receiving several unsolicited Twitter messages and tags right out of the blue, and it wasn’t long before Toyota ended up having to shut the whole thing down.
What We Can Learn: Don’t spam. That’s really the only lesson here.
8. Ryanair Needs a New CEO
The Incident: Another one from August: Ryanair customer Suzy McLeod issued a complaint against the company on Facebook, stating that she was unhappy about having to pay three hundred euros after forgetting to print off her family’s boarding passes. Whether or not the complaint was justified is irrelevant: the post exploded with likes and comments in a matter of days, with over 18,000 people expressing their support for McLeod. Rather than apologizing (as would have been the smart course) Ryanair’s CEO Michael O’Leary decided to throw a few canisters of gasoline on the fire:
“We think Mrs. McLeod should pay 60 euros for being so stupid,” he replied.
What We Can Learn: Insulting your customers is a bad idea. Don’t do it.
This one’s not necessarily chiefly related to social media, but it’s enough of a crisis that it’s worth mentioning here. By now, I’m sure most of you have heard about the catastrophe surrounding Chick-Fil-A’s founder, who stood as a staunch opponent against same-sex marriage. Unfortunately, that proved rather disastrous for his brand, as people all across the social sphere started to speak out against the company, peppering the organization’s Facebook page with angry accusations. Worse, a particular restaurant in the chain was accused of issuing a recall on Jim Hensen’s Creature Shop Puppet Toys after the organization expressed disdain at Chick-Fil-A’s stance on Gay Marriage, and the organization was accused of creating a puppet account to defend itself.
All in all, a complete disaster; one from which the business still hasn’t recovered.
What We Can Learn: Perhaps, in the interest of not alienating the consumer, it’s best for your executives not to speak too much about controversial topics which have nothing to do with your brand?
10. Ask Me Anything…For Marketing Purposes
The Incident: Near the beginning of February, Woody Harrelson decided that this new-fangled social network called Reddit might be worth a look. As a result, he posted a thread on Reddit’s “Ask Me Anything” subreddit. Unfortunately, he promoted neither thoughtful dialogue nor enjoyable discourse – the whole thing was a publicity stunt, and a blatantly obvious one at that.
Long story short: it ended badly for him. But hey, at least he’s infamous on Reddit now.
What We Can Learn: As I’ve said before, consumers aren’t stupid. If you fail to understand your target audience, or give even the smallest hint that what you’re doing is little more than a marketing ploy – particularly on a website like Reddit – your campaign is going to crash and burn, and you’re going to be left with a brand disaster. Know your audience, and don’t treat them like mental midgets or walking wallets.