Have Some Whale With Your Fail: Corporate Social Media Blunders

Social Media FailuresSocial Media has become a major pillar in many marketers’ strategies. Both the big names in advertising and the boutiques have embraced social media as a new way to engage with audiences. Most major corporations have also adopted some kind of social media policy, or rules for how to interact with their followers online.

But what happens when social media campaigns go wrong?

Hilarity, mostly. And a few cautionary tales.

For those of you on the consumer side, enjoy these epic failures of corporations trying to be savvy in social media. For those of you on the corporate side, take this as a learning exercise and learn where to avoid pitfalls other companies have run into.

L’Óreal: Beauty Isn’t Fake. Just Our Advertising Is

To promote their line of anti-aging and beauty products, L’Oreal launched a blog and social media campaign detailing the experiences of a character named Claire as she discussed the trials of aging, despite looking like a professionally photographed and Photoshopped model. Which she was.

When the advertising agency that created the campaign revealed a press release boasting about the success of the blatantly fake Claire, there really wasn’t any question left about their spokesperson’s authenticity.

Without any option for comment or feedback on the site, L’Oreal’s “blog” was pretty quickly torn apart from all sides by outside commentators.

Lesson Learned: Be authentic. Something that’s clearly fake, unless it’s a LOLcat, is not going to be something that your web-savvy market is going to love.

Chevy: Like A #$&%! Rock

The Chevy Tahoe’s do-it-yourself ad campaign is one of my favorites simply because of all of the harshly opinionated viewpoints that were blasted over Chevy trucks and published online.

The idea for the campaign was that Chevy-lovers could create their own personal Chevy ad with their own taglines. Things went horribly sideways when the site users took the Chevy ads and used them to express their personal opinions on, well, everything.

The resulting images should go down in advertising history. Here are some of my favorite taglines for the Chevy Tahoe:

  • “Larger than any mortal needs”
  • “…it could CRUSH your NEIGHBOR’S HOUSE!” – On a side note, that should actually be a Chevy advertising campaign. I would buy a truck with this feature.
  • “Global warming isn’t a pretty SUV ad.”
  • “Remember snow? It was pretty.”
  • “Everyone will like it if you buy it. Especially the b*tches.”
  • “It chugs gas like beer on pledge week.”

Lesson Learned: Consumers and users will engage with social media in ways you won’t expect. As a rule. Just because you have an idea in your head about how a conversation in social media should go down, that doesn’t mean your audience is going to play along.

“Thank you for calling Comcast, your call is important to us. We will will get to your call in approximately 4,834 minutes”

When a Comcast technician fell asleep on a customer’s couch waiting on hold for over an hour with his own company’s phone support, the disgruntled customer took a long video of this uninvited, overnight guest. The resulting video went viral, getting over 1.5 million views on YouTube.

The video spoke directly to everyone who’s ever had crappy customer support and tech service from a major telecom. So, pretty much everyone on the planet.

Lesson Learned: Cameras are everywhere thanks to cheap electronics and smartphones. A cheap YouTube video where your company’s caught in an embarrassing situation can unravel your multi-million dollar marketing. So respond to these kinds of mistakes early, and seriously, watch where you take a nap.

All I Want For Christmas Is For Sony To Stop Embarrassing Itself

Right in time for Christmas, Sony delivered what it thought was going to be a hip, trendy YouTube video that would really resonate with their young, game-playing demographic. The result was a train wreck and a healthy reminder why most amateur rap is terrible.

Lesson Learned: Borrowing heavily from mainstream trends is not a safe bet for success with your audience. In fact, it’s usually a recipe for disaster.

Greenpeace Cries For Kleenex’s Trees. Here’s A Tissue. Wait, Nevermind.

Kleenex went to crowd-sourced sob stories to promote its brand of tissues. They offered regular people on the street the chance to let it out for the camera on a comfortable couch, and be consoled with the help of a Kleenex.

I will actually give a tip of my hat to the resulting commercial. I think they succeeded in creating a really effective piece of advertising. Especially given the sabotaged footage that they had to use.

Hearing the premise for the commercial, Greenpeace decided to step in and hijack the cameras for their own cause. Apparently, Kleenex tissues and boxes are made from 100% virgin, old growth forest. This practice clearly didn’t sit well with environmentalists, so an entire crew of Greenpeace activists unleashed their righteous fury on camera during the filming of the Kleenex commercials.

Lesson Learned: Beware of highjackers. One of the risks of running a social media campaign is that, well, it’s social. It’s out in the public and is outside of your complete control. Although social media highjackings are rare, they can have disastrous results. Luckily, Kleenex was able to edit all their footage before it went to public, but you may not always have that much control over the end result of your campaigns.

Molson Wants You To Party! (Like You’re Responsible, Clear-Thinking, Abstaining Adults)

Who ever thought the phrase “Show everyone how you and your crew get the party started!” could lead to some questionable behavior? Especially when it comes from a beer company? This was the call to action from Molson during a Facebook campaign to get college students to submit photos of their friends partying hard thanks to a little support from their beer.

Colleges across the country rallied to protest against the fact that Molson was encouraging over-consumption and binge drinking. The beer company decided to shut the campaign down a week early.

Lesson Learned: While it’s probably impossible to come up with a public campaign that’s going to sit well with everybody, be sure to avoid topics that are especially hot topics, or at least treat them with some tact. Who knew alcoholism was such a touchy issue? Sheesh.

Rewarding Bad Behavior: JC Penny’s Non-Commercial

When a commercial for JC Penny won a Bronze Lion at Cannes, the department store was pumped. At least, it would have been, if that commercial had actually been made by them. The commercial was apparently created as an independent project borrowing from the imagery and themes for clothing and department store commercials, then credited to JC Penny.

The resulting commercial is brilliant, just brilliant. But for some pretty clear reasons, JC Penny wasn’t too impressed with having their name attached to it.

Lesson Learned: Don’t…be a big business? This is another example of brand highjacking, but there really is no way to stop clever people out there from creating a cool video borrowing from your company’s imagery if they want to. I guess just have a sense of humor.

Twitter Impersonation: Exxon Mobil’s Identity Theft

Exxon Mobil Corporation, the world’s largest oil producer, gained a slightly more public face when a Twitter account was opened in the company’s name, and began engaging openly with other Tweeters on a variety of controversial issues. While Twitter can be a great venue to get into open conversations with your critics and clientele as a company, it’s usually best to actually be the one who is speaking on your behalf.

The Twitter account ExxonMobilCorp was actually registered by someone with no official relationship to the oil conglomerate. Exxon was brand jacked.

What surprises me is that the account owner “Janet” had been actually trying to represent the company in a positive light. Most other brand jackers tend to take a company’s name and lampoon them or tarnish their reputations rather than protect them, the Yes Men being my favorite example of the former.

Lesson Learned: Although the ExxonMobilCorp Twitter account wasn’t saying anything overtly damaging, Exxon still lost control of part of its social media identity. Even if you’re not going to engage your audience over social media, make sure that you at least reserve your account names on Twitter and Facebook before some quick-thinking punk snags them.

Target Pokes An Angry Bear In The Face. This’ll Turn Out Well

Target took a pretty unrecommended approach to dealing with complaints voiced online about one of its advertising campaigns. The ad depicted a fully clothed woman stretched out making a snow angel across a Bull’s Eye – Target’s logo. A consumer took issue with the fact that Bull’s Eye was centered on the woman’s crotch, which that person believed sent a wrong message to kids.

Target responded to the complaint saying that they don’t “participate with nontraditional media outlets.”

“No” to nontraditional media outlets? Oh, Target, no. Telling a blogger than blogging doesn’t matter is like walking up to a Grizzly Bear in the woods and kicking it in the crotch repeatedly with a smile on your face. You’re going to be bulldozed as a result.

And that’s exactly what happened. A wide network of mothers and other special interest groups that were actively engaged online and were also a core part of Target’s demographic joined forces and lambasted Target’s decision. Last I heard, Target was reconsidering its position on alternate media outlets.

Lesson Learned: Don’t want to engage with social media? That’s cool. In fact, better to not say anything if you’re not comfortable with the medium. But don’t say social media doesn’t matter. Social media users tend to be pretty quick to respond to statements like that – and to gather around a cause faster than an enraged Grizzly Bear is going to chase you down.

Philanthropy Is Fashionable. As Long As You’re Not Wearing Louis Vuitton

Louis Vuitton provoked an angry social media response when they tried to use some heavy-handed litigation in order to protect what they saw as an infringement on their copyright and an attack on their brand image.

A charity group that was trying to raise money in support of Darfur began to sell T-Shirts to raise money. One of the designs they were selling showed a poor African boy holding a purse-sized dog and a Louis-Vuitton bag. The image was titled “Simple Living.”

Not wanting to associate their brand with the social problems in Africa, Louis-Vuitton sent a nicely worded email to the charity group commending them on their support for the Darfur cause, but also demanding thousands of dollars in damages if they didn’t stop selling their T-Shirts.

There was an immediate and harsh reaction to Louis-Vuitton from supporters of the charity group that is still ongoing.

Lesson Learned: Nothing can be done behind closed doors anymore in the world of social media. Everything that can be made public to gather support will be. Companies that used to be able to resort to heavy-handed tactics to protect their interests are having a tougher time keeping those stories private. Want to avoid a public scandal? Think twice about whether you would want your decisions broadcast over social media.

Flying Used To Bring A Song To Your Heart. In A Way, Flying With United Still Does

Poor customer service is the bread and butter of viral social media complaints. Griping about poor customer service is something that everyone can get behind, including musicians, apparently.

When United Airlines broke a band leader’s guitar due to poor baggage handling, they refused to pay for the damages for close to a year. The band decided to immortalize their saga with United in a song dedicated to how “United Breaks Guitars”.

Lesson Learned: Again, be aware of customer service more than ever, because one bad experience can go viral and tarnish your brand. If you’re still insistent on pissing off your customers though, at least make sure they’re not musicians.

Pepsi Helps You Score Points With Women, Not So Much With Feminists

When Pepsi tried to be the wingman for every dude out there with a smartphone, they ran into some problems. In partnership with AMP energy drinks, Pepsi created a smartphone app called “AMP Up Before You Score”.

The point of the app was that it would provide guys with all kinds of pick-up lines and tips in order to help them win over girls at the bar and out partying. Although it came as a surprise to Pepsi, I think it’s pretty safe to say that feminist groups aren’t exactly fans of anything that helps men objectify women and turn courtship into more of a game.

Due to a strong backlash, Pepsi apologized and the offending app was pulled from stores.

Lesson Learned: Don’t piss off feminists. And really, if your target market is guys that have to consult their phones for tips on how to pick up women, they need a lot more help than what you can pack into an application.

Not The Best Dating Site Profile: Vodafone Tweets Its Thoughts On Sexuality

Twitter can be a great tool to make announcements about your company, but I’m guessing Vodafone UK wishes that it had kept this particular bit of news to itself.

In a jaw-dropping tweet to all of their followers, Vodafone UK stated that “VodafoneUK is fed up of dirty homo’s and is going after beaver”. Questions and comments poured in from their followers about what Vodafone possibly could have been thinking.

It turns out that Vodafone’s account hadn’t been hacked. Vodafone managed to track down the offending tweet to one of their customer service centers and figured out that it belonged to a particularly disgruntled employee.

To Vodafone UK’s credit, they handled the customer service fall out well, apologizing immediately and explaining the situation on an individual basis to any Twitter users that sent them direct messages.

Lesson Learned: Don’t put the guy who’s pissed off at your company in charge of your social media accounts. That’s kinda like going golfing during a thunder storm. You’re just asking for bad results. Of course, it’s tough to know whether one of your employees is going to cause you problems, but as a general rule, you do want to choose someone who’s engaged and social media savvy – and preferably not going to use your account to voice their own personal opinions.

BP…Sucks. Enough Said

Hands down the greatest social media disaster in recent memory has to be the backlash on every available social media channel against BP’s oil spill. BP was being criticized from every available angle on the mainstream and alternative media, and may now be one of the most reviled companies on the planet.

Lesson Learned: There really is no lesson to be learned from BP’s example for the average company. Unless you’re running oil wells yourself. In which case, don’t dump millions of gallons of oil into the ocean.

That’s The Way The Cookie Crumbles… If It’s Being Eaten By A Rapper

This next example finally answered the question that has been plaguing people for years: “What do people love more? Cookies or Rap Music?”

At least, these are the types of things that I think about.

Oreo tried to set the world record for the most Facebook “Likes” any post had ever received in 24 hours and was aiming for 50,000 clicks. With 16 million fans on Facebook, they were off to a good start.

That was, until the rapper Lil Wayne heard the news, and highjacked their campaign. Calling out to his 20 million fans, he asked them to help him take the world record instead. By the end of the 24 hour period, Oreo had gotten a little over 100,000 likes. Lil Wayne had earned over a half million.

The funny bit is that because Lil Wayne didn’t submit a formal application, he’s technically not eligible to set the record. Either way, he stole Oreo’s thunder for their campaign in a single Facbook post.

Lesson Learned: While it’s impossible to predict if your campaign is going to be highjacked, it may be worthwhile to put a little bit of thought into how you would respond to a brand highjacking or how you would spin it. If nothing else, just make sure that Lil Wayne isn’t interested in what you’re doing.

Sony’s Battleship Wasn’t Sunk, It Was Sabotaged

Gaming and software companies have been fighting an ongoing battle against piraters and code-crackers who are finding ways around proprietary locks on games, software and even hardware consoles. Sony is no exception, and has been trying to prevent people from cracking or jail-breaking its Playstation 3 gaming system.

The code to jailbreak the PS3 was eventually discovered, but in a legal coup, Sony won an injunction that prevented the people who discovered the crack from sharing the information further. That didn’t stop someone from tweeting the jailbreak code to Sony as a taunt.

Some poor Sony intern who didn’t understand the significance of the string of numbers and letters thought it was a line from the game Battleship and retweeted the code as a joke. The result was that Sony tweeted its own jailbreak code to its over 700,000 followers.

Lesson Learned: If you’ve handed off social media responsibilities to interns, make sure that they know exactly what’s going on with your company. Besides that, know the rules of Battlship. Everybody should, anyway.