“There’s no such thing as bad publicity except your own obituary.” — Brendan Behan, Irish Poet
We’ve entered a new era of social media.
In order to get attention in the unending crush of content, in order to be seen at all, brands are now intentionally making “mistakes” in hopes of going viral.
The resulting backlash, often perpetrated by quick-to-judge keyboard warriors through channels such as Facebook and Twitter, is more-often-than-not precisely the reaction desired by the savvy marketers.
After all, the first step in any marketing campaign is brand awareness.
The thesis is simple: Social media has entered a third age in its evolution.
Social Media 1.0 – Gaining Fans
Social Media 1.0 (aka the rise of the “Social Web” or “Web 2.0”) occurred when websites began to transition from one-way bulletin boards, static repositories of content broadcast to the world, to two-way streets – enabling and encouraging on-page comments and back-and-forth discussion from readers.
This shift changed public relations and brand management irrevocably, as for the first time consumers en masse could easily provide direct feedback to brands.
With the advent of Twitter and Facebook Business pages, brands not only had new channels through which to gauge public sentiment, but consumers gained easy ways to make their opinions publicly known.
From a marketer’s perspective, I’d argue that “Social Media 1.0” was best characterized by the beginning of more robust and public direct-to-consumer communications, when popularity was best gauged by the number of fans/followers or “Likes”.
Social Media 2.0 – Engagement
Several years ago, the relevant social media metrics by which marketers were judged shifted from the mere number of fans (which could be manipulated through the buying and selling of fake accounts) to their engagement – that is, the number of comments a given post received.
Fast forward to 2015 and we have:
Social Media 3.0 – Mistakes as Strategy
Recently, in the unending stream of constant new content, there arose a phenomenon that is almost meta in its brilliance:
Brands on social media began to intentionally use sarcasm and mistakes as a matter of strategy.
Put another way, we now live in the era of ninja-level trolling – intentionally using mistakes in order to go viral.
Five examples are below.
I. Hostess and Baseball
Witness this classic “mistake” from Hostess last spring to celebrate baseball’s opening day:
The internet reacted with appropriate outrage at the mixed sports metaphor. And Hostess got the free attention and publicity it was seeking.
II. Monster and the 2015 Super Bowl
Last year, Monster intentionally congratulated the Seattle Seahawks on their Super Bowl win. The only problem? It was the New England Patriots who actually won.
Apparently it paid off: Monster’s intentional gaffe led to a 1,700% increase in engagement compared to its posts on a normal Sunday.
And the punchline? It’s at the bottom: Monster’s a career-search site, and the implication in the social media manager who Tweeted the mistake will be fired, and thus employ Monster.com to find a new job. Well-played, Monster. Slow clap…
III. JC Penney & the 2014 Super Bowl
A year earlier, JC Penney rose above the content fray with a serious of “drunk” posts:
The punchline? The JCPenney social media person claimed they weren’t drunk but rather just trying to Tweet in mittens. (Groan…)
IV. Chipotle “Hack”
Of all of the above, the largest actual brand backlash came days after Chipotle restaurants posted these, intimating that their account had been hacked. They later admitted it had not (to much social media outcry and distain), but as a marketing ploy, the stunt clearly worked.
According to its head of marketing, Chipotle’s Twitter account added more than 4,000 followers that day, compared to its normal rate of about 250 new followers per day. The “hacked” tweets, which have not been deleted, were retweeted about 12,000 times. By comparison, Chipotle’s Twitter account usually sees about 75 retweets per day.
With this behavior by brands dating back a few years now, why is all of this relevant today, in 2016?
V. Total Beauty and the 2016 Oscars
Why, last week, when Total Beauty Tweeted the following during the Oscars telecast:
(In case you missed it, that’s actress Whoopi Goldberg, not Oprah Winfrey)
The company maintains it was a real mistake, having deleted the Tweet, issued an apology and offered to donate $10,000 to a charity of Oprah and/or Whoopi Goldberg’s choice.
But I’m in the camp that believes this was all masterful and intentional trolling, as Total Beauty got a boatload of free publicity from the “gaffe,” from articles in CNN, USA Today, The Huffington Post, Mashable, and more — to a trending Twitter hashtag, #ThatsNotOprah.
Not only does it smell of a planned publicity stunt to me, I rank it as masterful in concept and execution because it smacks of just the blatant racism (and implied sexism) that instantly riles up the social justice internet warriors the best.
The lesson of all this?
Brands are increasingly using “mistakes” in sophisticated ways to raise awareness and gain free publicity.
I could add the myriad ways that Kanye West and Donald Trump use Twitter to troll the masses and keep themselves in the spotlight, but that’s for a whole other post…