PR doesn’t always go according to plan. This is especially true if your team doesn’t put enough time into weighing all of the potential outcomes.
With careful preparation and consideration to the execution of a campaign, it becomes much easier to anticipate the outcome. Even if you couldn’t possibly imagine a poor response, you must be prepared for any situation – otherwise, you just might end up with a PR nightmare on your hands.
Fortunately for us, unfortunately for those who suffered through them, there are plenty of well-meaning campaigns that we can learn from. Here are a few with important learnings for us all.
Blunder #1: Build-A-Bear Workshop’s “Pay Your Age” Day
In July 2018, Build-A-Bear Workshop held a special Pay Your Age event to kick off its new celebration of birthdays. The concept is as simple as it sounds – the sale for a plush toy equals the age of your child. The event created a frenzy at American malls when more people showed up than expected, leading to massively long lines and tons of media attention. Eventually, the retailer had to start distributing vouchers, closing stores and turning disappointed customers away.
Don’t underestimate the traction of an event, especially one with a heavily discounted offer. While the idea of the event was good, it lacked the proper forethought and operational execution, which resulted in unhappy customers. Always have a backup plan, consider as many contingencies as possible and create a way to make it up to stakeholders in the event things go south.
Blunder #2: Neymar and Messi Mastercard Campaign to Feed Starving Children
In 2018, Mastercard announced on Twitter that it would donate 10,000 meals to the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) for children in Latin America and the Caribbean each time professional soccer players Lionel Messi or Neymar scored a goal. While the company likely expected a universally positive reaction, the pledge quickly backfired on social media. Some branded the event as a “horrible” and “morally wrong” PR stunt that meant the fate of starving children rested in the performance of two soccer stars.
As one Twitter user put it, “Don’t let the fate of starving children rest on multimillionaire footballers.” If your company has the means to donate money or contribute to a good cause, don’t create any fancy hoops or stipulations for publicity – especially when child hunger is involved.
Blunder #3: McDonald’s #MeetTheFarmers Campaign
In 2012, McDonald’s rolled out a 24-hour Twitter campaign to share positive supplier stories. The campaign used the hashtag #MeetThe Farmers and was intended to focus on the brand’s organic potato farmers so that people would think “healthy” when they thought of McDonald’s. As the campaign failed to gain traction, McDonald’s introduced a second hashtag, #McDStories, which caused the campaign to blow up and turn into a channel for customers to share negative stories about the brand.
Any social media campaign, especially one that encourages the use of hashtags, opens two-way communication between a brand and its customers. Social media can be very unpredictable, so don’t underestimate its reach and have a crisis plan to anticipate negative feedback, especially in the event that your hashtags get hijacked.