Alex Steer

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Brands, self-delusion and the internet

371 words | ~2 min

This week saw another episode in the endless morality tale of brands underestimating people's capacity for mischief:

Coca-Cola has been forced to withdraw a Twitter advertising campaign after a counter-campaign by Gawker tricked it into tweeting large chunks of the introduction to Hitler’s Mein Kampf.

We've seen this before plenty of times - with McDonald's #McDstories, Starbucks' wall of tax hate, and even another recent example from Coke where people could write what they wanted on a virtual can.

It happens because marketers genuinely believe that people will want to play along with their ideas. Specifically, when the idea involves asking people to say positive things about their brand experiences, to their friends, online, for free.

Coke have, of course, pulled the campaign. What makes this remarkable is the statement that Coke issued in response (my emphasis):

The #MakeItHappy message is simple: The Internet is what we make it, and we hoped to inspire people to make it a more positive place. It's unfortunate that Gawker is trying to turn this campaign into something that it isn't. Building a bot that attempts to spread hate through #MakeItHappy is a perfect example of the pervasive online negativity Coca-Cola wanted to address with this campaign.

To which the simple answer is: no, it isn't.

It is mischief, plain and simple. The same instinct that drives us to draw comedy beards on photographs, or add an 'i' in the middle of a 'To let' sign. It does not require a spirit of pervasive negativity to spot that, when a brand takes what claims to be a social stance, while misunderstanding the social cues around it, there is an opportunity to have a laugh at its expense.

Coke should, in this case, either not have run with the idea, or stuck to their guns. If #MakeItHappy is about turning the worst negativity on the internet into something happy, let it be about that. Don't bail because the negativity is too negative or because you were outsmarted. Be real, or don't bother, in other words.

# Alex Steer (06/02/2015)