Jennifer Leggio offers 9 highly visible social media failures, apparently intended as a cautionary tale for those who believe that social media is a no-brainer for business. While I agree with the premise that social media engagement is a double-edged sword, I’m not sure all of these examples qualify as failures – or even as examples of social media “campaigns.”
The Quiznos Subs “2 Girls, 1 Sandwich” ad: Although Leggio calls this a “viral video”, it was actually produced by and embedded on Playboy.com. As she notes, Quiznos officially denied having any affiliation, but Leggio nonetheless identifies this as an example of a loss of brand control, apparently attributable to a misguided social media campaign. That seems to me a misdiagnosis of the problem (if a problem even exists). To the extent that the video went viral and created a backlash among consumers, this is an example of the way that social media can complicate traditional media campaigns. The ad isn’t an example of user-generated content, wasn’t published on a social media site, and didn’t include any of the elements we typically associate with a social media campaign. But if you put out a traditional ad with questionable content, social media certainly makes it possible for the ad to be taken out of its intended context and virally disseminated. That hardly qualifies as a failed social media campaign. That Quiznos decided to allow their brand to be associated with Playboy seems a conscious decision, and however objectionable that association might be to some, the ad is pretty consistent with the type of content one would expect to find on the Playboy site. Moreover, the risque nature of the ad is hardly a departure for the Quiznos brand, whose previous ad campaign featured a couple of demented-looking rodents – hardly standard fare for a fast-food chain. Loss of brand control indeed. Whatever objections one might have to this particular ad, I certainly don’t think it can be characterized accurately as a social media failure.
Motrin’s “Mommyblogger” backlash: Again, this is an example of a traditional media ad stirring up controversy via social media (in this case, by raising the ire of so-called “mommybloggers”. This is yet another example of the way social media empowers users to talk back to brands – an important point, no doubt – but it hardly qualifies as either a social media campaign or a social media failure.
The CNN/Ashton Kutcher Twitter stunt: While this certainly qualifies as a social media campaign for the CNN brand, I disagree with Leggio’s contention that it was a failure. Leggio asserts that the stunt somehow diminished the respectability of CNN, in spite of the fact that it was a close race (CNN was fewer than 2000 followers behind Kutcher when he reached 1 million followers) and all for a charitable cause. In this case, failure is in the eye of the beholder – an important lesson for brands as they try to figure out how to assess the success or failure of social media campaigns. I think Leggio fundamentally missed a critical component of the “stunt” – that it was a critical commentary on the importance of celebrity culture (which given the close results, turns out not to be quite the travesty that commentary intended). More importantly, the CNN brand hardly suffered from the stunt – it’s still one of the most popular contributors on Twitter.
What I find most interesting about this list is the conclusion Ms. Leggio draws from these failures: “Word-of-mouth marketing is a fantastic thing when you know how to leverage it. But if you lose control of your brand, the disasters are almost endless. Let these brands’ failures be a lesson.” Maybe, and in some cases, certainly. However, the advent of social media poses a risk to brands even when they don’t explicitly undertake a “social media campaign.” To a large extent, loss of brand control is an inevitability in the age of social media. Learning to deal with that loss of control and manage brand identity in spite of it is the real lesson here.