Five of the worst international social media campaigns

Yesterday, we looked at some of the best examples of viral marketing to come out in recent years. But for every success story, there are many other examples of campaigns that have gone horribly wrong, or simply gone nowhere at all. There is a famous saying which goes: “There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.”

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the most epic viral marketing fails in recent years, and see what we can learn from them.

1. Dr Pepper and that porn video
The Lean Mean Fighting Machine agency won the Dr Pepper UK account from Coca Cola and started out with a good idea by developing a Facebook application which gave consumers the chance to win £1 000 if they allowed the brand to take control of their status updates. It launched in May as part of Dr. Pepper’s “What’s the Worst That Could Happen?” campaign.

The status updates were randomly generated and ranged in degrees of embarrassment. The worst unfortunately did happen however, as one particularly offensive update ended up on the profile of a 14 year old girl. It read “I watched 2 girls 1 cup and felt hungry afterwards.” If you’re not familiar with it, well….2 Girls 1 Cup is possibly one of the most notorious internet porn videos out there and understandably the girl’s mother (who happened to be on Mumsnet) was rather upset to find her daughter searching online for the clip to see what it was.

The campaign was pulled immediately and Lean Mean Fighting Machine was left with some real explaining to do, and a reputation as being out of control and untrustworthy.

2. Skittles
Skittles redesigned its website to function as a Twitter page in March 2009, with new updates for every Skittles-related tweet, as well as links to a number of social media pages on YouTube, Facebook, Wikipedia and Flickr. It was praised at the time for being innovative, experimental and brave, and for giving consumers some control of their brand reputation. It allowed Skittles to engage with customers who may not normally have visited their home page and traffic increased dramatically.

The success was however short-lived as interest dropped off dramatically. In the long-term, the site did not engage with customers or offer them any content of value. Skittles didn’t actively participate or contribute to online conversations, they merely pulled in streams from different social media sites. Pranksters also decided to add to the Skittles Twitter feed with vulgar language and profanities so they would end up on the website, forcing the Mars family to abandon the campaign as the Skittles’ target market includes families and children.

3. Ryanair
UK Blogger Jason Roe wrote a post about the poor functionality on budget airline Ryanair’s website, as he encountered a bug while attempting to book a flight. Employees of the budget airline however responded to the post in the comments section by calling him “a lunatic”, “an idiot” and “a liar”.

Customers were in turn amazed, appalled and somewhat amused at Ryanair’s rudeness and aggression, though not entirely surprised, as the airline’s head honcho Michael O’Leary has a bit of a reputation for that kind of behaviour. It would be wise for Ryanair to remember that negative feedback should be welcomed, politely taken on board and acted on, while showing respect for customers.

4. Habitat
Habitat, an interior design brand from the UK, made the decision to use the Twitter hashtag functionality to drive users to its products. The manner in which it was executed, however, turned out to be a high-profile epic fail. The lowly intern given the responsibility for tweeting exploited the controversy over the Iranian election by using the hashtags #iranianelection and #mousavi, which was not well-received by Twitter users.

Habitat was accused of piggy-backing on popular topics to market their products, and clearly did not take time to understand their chosen medium and the rules of engagement, or the responsibility that goes with speaking in the voice of your brand.

5. Saatchi & Saatchi/Toyota
Advertising giants Saatchi & Saatchi won a pitch for Toyota in Australia to launch a social media campaign. Their idea was to host a viral filmmaking contest featuring the Yaris car model. But the campaign embarrassingly saw no entries submitted and gained very few Facebook and Twitter followers. This was followed by a desperate attempt by Saatchi to up the numbers by sending out an even more embarrassing call-to-action email to production companies.

This is the e-mail that reached production companies, sending things from bad to worse.

From: Rob
Subject: Clever Comp
Hey creative people
I’ve got something that you’ll (or your housemates, brothers, sisters, artistic friends etc will) be interested in.
It’s a film comp in aide of promoting Toyota Yaris.
“A film comp? I don’t have the time!” you may say, but listen up. So far, NO ONE has entered and it has been open for more than 10 days and closes 1st December. Voting is done on hits and comments so if you’re in first you have a huge advantage. And you don’t have to make an ad, just put a Yaris in somewhere a la the ‘number 8′ or ’spring’ in Tropfest or something
First prize is $7,000. $3,000 for second and $1,000 for 3rd. At this stage, you could enter a picture of your cat playing in his kitty litter and win 7 grand.
Details are in the attachments. If you win, I’d love an all carbon fibre road bicycle for Christmas.
Cheers y’all.

Once the production companies had sent in their entries, Saatchi’s selected a winner which happened to be a slick, humorous but entirely inappropriate viral video advert which offended many viewers with its overt sexism and overtones of incest – one fail after another.

This in-depth analysis gives a great breakdown of what went wrong for Toyota and why.

These various mistakes demonstrate that you need to understand social media before you start with a campaign, employ good risk control, and make sure everyone involved understands what the brand stands for.

Catherine Murray


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