Oops, they did it again. This time it’s Coca-Cola.
The company has pulled its #MakeItHappy brand campaign after it was used to tweet excerpts from Hitler’s Mein Kampf into sweetly innocuous cartoon images of kitty cats and happy hamburgers.
The #MakeItHappy campaign launched with an ad during the Super Bowl.
Designed to combat the bullying and negative language found on social media, the beverage giant asked Twitter users to forward negative messages tagged with the #MakeItHappy hashtag. An automated algorithm would transform the words into cutesy ASCII cartoons and @CocaCola would retweet the images to its millions of followers with the message We turned the hate you found into something happy.
Coca-Cola, with its 100,ooo+ employees, seems to have launched it unmanned into cyberspace.
Nobody at the company noticed when the famous ‘Fourteen Words’ slogan of white supremacist movements was turned into a happy little puppy that tweeted out “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for White Children.” It was, however, noticed by the media pranksters at Gawker who created the Twitter handle @MeinCoke and fed a line-by-line reading of Hitler’s manifesto into the #MakeIt Happy algorithm, and then watched Coca-Cola’s official twitter account as it rendered Hitler’s words into smiling bananas and sunglass-wearing palm trees.
This is hardly the first Twitter campaign gone wild.
McDonald’s began promoting the sponsored hashtag #McDStories with the idea of getting people talking about their experiences with the fast food giant. The company started the conversation with a few innocuous tweets: Meet some of the hard-working people dedicated to providing McDs with quality food every day and When u make something w/pride, people can taste it. As hoped, people shared their #McDStories by the thousands. There were stories about diabetes and diarrhea, a video posted of a mouse working its way through a bag of hamburger buns, and a heated back-and-forth with PETA over the inhumane use of mechanically-separated chickens. Apparently some McDStories are better left untold.
Wendy’s had a similar experience with a Twitter campaign built around its 25-year old TV commercial with the little old lady crying out “Where’s the Beef? When the chain promoted its hashtag #HerestheBeef, plenty of users responded with their pornographic versions of Here it is!
Even Starbucks, a company that parlayed its usually spot-on social engagement to become the best loved online brand, has had its own stumble in cyberspace. The coffee seller created the seasonal hashtag #SpreadTheCheer and invited its customers in the United Kingdom to tweet out holiday greetings with a direct feed to a giant screen at London’s Natural History museum. Before it could be shut down, the unmonitored, uncensored tweeter feed was flooded with profanity-laced sentiments blasting Starbucks as economy-busting tax dodgers who push overpriced milky coffee drowned in sugar syrup.
Missteps like these are not limited to the food world.
The New England Patriots celebrated reaching 1 million Twitter followers by thanking fans with custom digital jerseys—basically a photo of the back of a Patriots uniform with a Twitter handle where the player’s name usually appears. Patriots fans gleefully retweeted the automated images of irreverent and unsavory Twitter screen names until one fan’s hateful, obscenely racist Twitter handle finally shut it all down.
While the Patriots’ stunt was naïve and a bit misguided, what’s Bill Cosby’s excuse? The comedian’s website recently posted a link to a photo meme-generator and the message: Go ahead, meme me! Twitter followers were in no mood for poking fun at Jell-O pudding commercial or his penchant for wearing loud sweaters, and #CosbyMeme was quickly populated by darkly humorous evocations of Cosby’s decades of rape allegations. Who didn’t see that coming?
Twitter can be a powerful tool for brands to interact with their customers, but it also puts power in the hands of the public where it can all too easily backfire. Disgruntled customers and bystanders can shape or even hijack a promotional campaign to disastrous results. When a brand like Coke loses control of its own product’s narrative, things can go downhill in a hurry as the tweets are shared with their millions of Twitter followers, and the followers’ followers, and the followers’ followers’ followers….