21 Sep 2012

Are hijacked social media campaigns more successful?

In a digital world where marketing campaigns are at the mercy of an unforgiving public, Channel 4 News looks at the brands that manage to come out on top after their marketing campaign is hijacked.

There was a time when a marketing campaign consisted of posting leaflets through letterboxes. But with the ready made social networks on Twitter and Facebook, companies or brands can instantly connect with an entire community if they win over one internet user who feels moved to comment about it.

But the more questionable result of this ready-made audience is that it can talk back. And companies looking to harness the power of social media have had to prepare themselves for instantaneous feedback from a notoriously vicious sea of voices.

And what now appears to separate the marketing winners and losers, are those who can react immediately – and crucially, with good humour – when their campaign comes under attack.


The upmarket supermarket took to Twitter prompting users to use the #waitrosereasons hashtag when tweeting why they shop at Waitrose, hoping they would discuss its top of the range produce and organic meat.

However Twitter users soon used it as an excuse to ridicule the supermarket’s luxury image and association with the upper classes. Shane Callagy tweeted via @shanecallagh: “I don’t shop at Waitrose. The servant does. #Waitrosereasons”. James Coakes via @jamescoakes added: ? “I shop at Waitrose because everyone on our estate does. Even the gamekeepers.”

Rather than trying to ditch the campaign immediately, Waitrose’s official twitter account encouraged the tweeting and reacted with good humour, saying: Thanks again for all the #waitrosereasons tweets. We really did enjoy the genuine and funny replies. Thanks for making us smile.”

“The ‘botched’ Twitter campaign which has made Waitrose a “laughing stock” gets my full backing and a ten out of ten from me,” says Jason Woodford, SiteVisibility CEO, who adds that the campaign “reinforced its upmarket image”.

“This was a very clever marketing ploy from Waitrose and it has reinforced its brand values of quality and reliably excellent service as a key point of differentiation from the other grocery chains,” he said.

Nick Clegg says sorry

Also this week, Nick Clegg’s campaign team decided it was about time for an apology over raising, instead of scrapping, tuition fees. In a video posted on Youtube, the deputy prime minister earnestly told viewers how sorry he was for regaling on his promise.

Within hours, a spoof autotuned video was created showing Mr Clegg singing his speech boy-band style to a surprisingly catchy ballad.

But while the video didn’t do much for Mr Clegg’s credibility, it moved the debate away from reminding the public about what he was actually apologising for. And Camp Clegg came out trumps when they agreed the song be made available on iTunes as long as the money was donated to Mr Clegg’s charity of choice.

Snickers: ‘You’re not you when you’re hungry’

What started out as a harmless social media campaign by Mars, owners of the Snickers chocolate bar, ended up in a probe by the Advertising Standards Agency. Mars persuaded five celebrtities, including Katie Price and Rio Ferdinand, to post a series of uncharacteristic tweets to coincide with their campaign slogan, “you’re not yourself when you’re hungry”.

Katie Price posted about quantitative easing and the political economy, while footballer Rio Ferdinand posted about his love of knitting. After four such tweets, the marketing ploy was revealed with a picture of the celebrities and their Snickers bars.

The Twittersphere was certainly captivated by the tweets and enjoyed the joke and the ASA did not uphold the few complaints it received, saying that because the last tweet included @snickers uk #hungry #spon, they were clearly advertising.


It all started so well. McDonald’s #meetthefarmers campaign promoted the company’s dedication to home-grown produce by telling the public stories of the farmers they work with. However the #McDstories campaign, prompting people to share their favourite McDonald’s stories, ended up with Twitter users sharing their most horrific tales of meals at the fast-food restaurant. @jfsmith23 wrote: “Watching a classmate projectile vomit his food all over the restaurant during a 6th grade trip. #McDStories”.

The overall success of the campaign is up for debate, but the fact that campaign managers were aware of what was happening, and managed to pull the hashtag wihin an hour, shows they were on the ball. In addition, the campaign manager Rick Wion responded personally to some Twitter users, correcting them about McDonald’s products when they were misinformed and a new hashtag, #LittleThings has so far had a largely positive response.

“Companies can’t create a campaign and plan what’s going to happen,” Anna Drennan – marketing manager at Conversocial, told Channel 4 News.

“People’s responses are public. I think that’s the point – you have give up control. Having the right response team ready and making sure that’s connected within your organisation is the way to do it.”


When thousands of 02 users woke up one day and realised their network was down, the company came under a storm of outrage on Facebook and Twitter. Despite the very public anger and criticism the network came under, the official Twitter account responded to almost every direct complaint in a friendly, apologetic manner. By the end of the day, it had not only won over many of the complainers, but was receiving plaudits for its excellent customer service.

“Consumers find it refreshing and can be completely turned around in their opinion,” Ms Drennan told Channel 4 News. “They managed to turn itself into something that got them much more positive attention. The twitter conversation got more much attention than the original problem.”

“This could be quite pivotal in companies’ images going forward. Be reactive to what comes back, rather than planning for the launch and then forgetting about it.”