For my April’s Fools post I’m not going to play a joke on you. I won’t tell you the name of my business has been changed or make up new products for a laugh. Instead I’m going to point out the real fools who thought it would be a good idea to launch a social media campaign.
My favorite is when someone responds to a misguided social media campaign in a way that overtakes the original purpose of the campaign.
Here are my top 5 Fools of 2015. These are the social media campaigns that backfired this year so far:
1. Starbucks: for the #RaceTogether campaign.
The one-week campaign asked employees to write “Race Together” on coffee cups and try to engage people in a dialogue about race. I’m not sure why they didn’t try to hold dialogue between customers by bringing leaders to stores for informal discussion groups about local issues.
Why were they fools? For thinking their customers would be interested in launching into politically loaded conversations while getting a cup of coffee.
2. Hamas: for their #AskHamas campaign
This was also a week long campaign and it was international (but in English). Hamas is the largest Palestinian militant Islamist groups. It has a PR problem and decided to encourage people to ask questions on social media. Just news of the campaign invited mockery.
Why were they fools? For blowing people up to reach ideological and religious differences then ask the world what they think (and expect it to turn out well).
3. Mall of America: for the#itsmymall campaign
If you have something that you’d rather not be exposed, go ahead and trumpet something that others criticize. The Mall of America asked people to share stories about the mall on Twitter for a chance to win $500 gift cards. I don’t think the tweets about racism won the cash. The hashtag #itsmymall trended on Twitter and there wasn’t a lot of brand love.
Why were they fools? For acting “confused” about the backlash that happened and being out of touch with how their customers are treated.
4. SeaWorld: for their#AskSeaWorld Twitter campaign
SeaWorld has been criticized about their treatment of killer whales after a documentary criticizing them came out in 2013. Feeling maligned, they hoped to educate the public about they are doing to protect whales. They touted some good and then asked people to join in by asking questions using the hashtage #AskSeaWorld. That’s like asking environmentalists what they think about fracking (don’t expect to get any love).
PETA took the bait, asking:
Why they were fools: For thinking you can reverse years of bad PR by putting out some positive messages and asking what everyone thinks.
#5 Budweiser: for not thinking through their #UpForWhatever campaign.
Bud Light tweeted a picture of five smiling young women on St. Patrick’s Day. It said: “On #StPatricksDay you can pinch people who don’t wear green. You can also pinch people who aren’t #UpForWhatever.”
Why were they fools? The tweet was taken as giving an OK to sexual assault and was later deleted.
Lessons learned: when your brand is in trouble it’s probably a bad time to have public dialogue with the public. It’s too little too late. You can successfully address politically-loaded topics with advertising, but it’s more along the lines of rallying the troops than convincing naysayers. One reason it’s probably a bad idea is because they expose just how out of touch the company is with public opinion.
Next up: a social media strategy (rather than a campaign) that is paying off well for a California doughnut shop I recently visited.