Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Your Goof, My Gain

Over the last year or so, several companies and organizations have managed to embarass themselves in some way online. Social media is still something of a wild west, and even the biggest brands have the potential to really mess up their marketing. One wrong move and the People of The Internet let them have it. Everyone makes mistakes, but an online gaffe seems to have more impact - say or do the wrong thing and your idiocy will be on display for the whole world to mock.

I'm something of an expert when it comes to sticking my foot in my mouth in personal and professional interactions- thought I've gotten a LOT better since my first co-op job in 2007. I've culled my favorite Foot in Online Mouth moments from brands over the past year and siphoned out some lessons we can all learn.

1. Kony 2012- the video and activism campaign to bring Joseph Kony to justice went viral beyond Invisible Children's wildest imaginings - and stirred up global criticism. I'm of the opinion that IC was in the wide-eyed optimist camp and never imagined that their video would become as popular as it did - and were totally unprepared for the questions and backlash that subsequently followed. Their inability to completely answer the questions about the organization and affiliations caused a lot of confusion and diluted their original message - and the leader of the movement pretty much lost his mind. I would, too.

Lesson: For your sanity, vet yourself before everyone else does.
2. General Motors"bikes are lame" campaign- General Motors rolled out a huge ad campaign geared towards college students. The goal: shame bike riding and pedestrian college students into buying a new car. The problem? College students are among the top bike-riding demographic in the country, and the Millenial generation is particularly passionate about environmentalism - and voicing their opinions on the Internet. After thousands of irate college kids and bike supporters told GM how very wrong they were, the car giant sheepishly pulled the campaign - and made lots of apologies to individuals.
(picture source)

Lesson: Get outside opinions of your work before displaying it to the public - ESPECIALLY from your target demographic.
3. Chapstick - Chapstick's social ad campaign featured the above image. Someone online didn't like the prominence of the girl's booty in the air and wrote a comment on Chapstick's Facebook wall letting them know. Instead of responding to the message, the admins for the page deleted it. Other people also wrote on Chapstick's wall voicing their opinions about the ad - those got deleted, too. The sticking point is that the campaign hinged on one sentence:
"Be heard at" - Pretty soon people were posting so much that the admins couldn't keep up with deleting all the comments. The message ran away from them, and they posted a half-hearted apology without actually admitting they'd done anything wrong. (picture source)

Own your mistakes - don't hide from critics. They won't go away.
4. Tidy Cat- a bit closer to home, Tidy Cat recently retracted an ad campaign that was directed at the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. As part of their NoMorePU #lifestinks campaign, the kitty litter manufacturers posted a billboard: "You're so over Over-the-Rhine. #lifestinks" - The marketing team meant the joke to be directed towards the view of OTR from 10-15 years ago - a scary ghetto that no one would want to visit. Apparently they missed the memo that the neighborhood is in the midst of a renaissance, with new trendy businesses, arts groups, and a VERY passionate fan club. Word spread and Twitter revolted - taking Tidy Cat to task over their ignorance. The billboard was gone in less than three days. (picture source: Noel Prows)

Lesson: Do your homework! A city-specific ad + outdated opinions = very pissed off Cincinnati.

Maybe these lessons are obvious (they weren't to the big guys), but as more and more attention is focused in the digital realm, a haphazard or half-assed attempt at marketing online just isn't going to cut it.

Did I miss any?