A great example of what not to do with social media

19 Jul 2010 by Randall Helms, 1 Comment »

Having discussed the brilliant Old Spice campaign a few days ago, it’s worth mentioning now a social media screw-up of epic proportions, as discussed in this story from The Guardian:

The Coca-Cola company has pulled an internet promotion campaign, after parents accused it of targeting children by using references to a notorious pornographic movie.

The company had been running a promotion for its Dr Pepper brand, in which users allowed their Facebook status box to be taken over by the company.

As part of the promotion, supposedly embarrassing messages would be posted under the user’s name, which could be seen by friends entitled to view their Facebook profile.

But the promotion backfired when a parent protested after finding that the profile of her 14-year-old daughter had been updated with a message that made direct reference to a hardcore pornographic film.

According to the original post on Mumsnet, the reference was to “2 Girls 1 Cup”, a (very) extreme scat porn film that birthed a brief craze last year of YouTube users filming their disgusted reactions to it. To be honest, I’ve not seen the clip in question, but having read the description of it on the Mumsnet post, it simply beggars belief that anyone working on a campaign for a mainstream consumer product like Dr Pepper would think it a good idea to reference something so nasty in a marketing campaign.

Actually, even more than that, this is a management failure, because it is simply incredible that this idea wasn’t filtered out before it actually reached the consumer. Sure, sure, I know that we live in an era where being ‘edgy’ is everything, where any product aimed at young people (even one as benign as a sugary carbonated soft drink) has to have some kind of (false) edge or grit or danger associated with it, but this is just stupid, and should have been axed long before it was put into the public domain.

Since I am obviously not privy to the internal workings of Dr Pepper’s marketing department, I’m going to have to speculate as to what happened in this situation, but I would guess that this was a failure of oversight, presumably firstly on the part of the agency responsible, and then secondly at Coca Cola. It’s possible that this slipped through because the overall campaign was seen as being ‘only aimed at social media’, and therefore less important, and so able to be less stringently assessed than a traditional media campaign. Unfortunately, making mistakes in social media can have immediate and deleterious effects on brands, whether corporate or personal, as ‘Dr’ Gillian McKeith discovered to her chargin last week after some ill-advised tweets.

I am generally a believer in people being given responsibility for their work without too much managerial interference, but this is an excellent example of the risks run by such an approach. Even if management is adopting a hands-off approach to creative work, you still need to maintain some kind of watchful eye over the content created in order to make sure that it is appropriate for what you are doing.

If the Old Spice campaign is an excellent example of how to use social media, then this is the opposite, illustrating as it does a worrying lack of understanding for what is appropriate content for a social media campaign.

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