There's always a fine line between cutting edge marketing and offensive pulp. And in social media you learn the difference fairly quickly. For example, Coke is now trying to stem the damage that ad agency Lean Mean Fighting Machine created on Dr Pepper's U.K. Facebook campaign.
Brands like Dr Pepper, that want to be seen as edgy and youthful, are in tough spot. They don't shy away from potentially offensive marketing content. But in the case of this latest Facebook snafuu, they're learning that poorly planned boundary pushing can lead into sketchy territory pretty quickly.
Lean Mean Fighting Machine won the Dr Pepper U.K. account in April, and one of its first efforts for the brand was an April Fool's joke on Chat Roulette.
As part of the agency's campaign, complete with "What's the Worst That Could Happen?" tagline, the brand punked Chat Roulette users, showing them a cute cheerleader to get their attention and then switching her out for a weird old dude. Was it cutting edge for Dr Pepper to use the new — and often questionable — medium of Chat Roulette for marketing purposes? Maybe. But it wasn't clear what the brand got out of it, other than first mover status. Rather than using Chat Roulette to the brand's purposes, their April Fool's joke played into the baser aspects of the service — but with a branded Dr Pepper image attached.
Some people liked the campaign, but it's already questionable to have your brand associated with nude video chat users. When you're testing the boundaries of good taste, the chances that something could go wrong are high. And that's what happened on Facebook.
The agency's latest campaign for Dr Pepper was an app on the social network that gave consumers the chance to win £1,000 if they allowed the brand to take control of their status updates. Starting in May, Dr Pepper fans allowed their status updates to be filled with such gems as:
"Lost my special blankie. How will I go sleepies?"
The messages were randomly generated and ranged in degrees of embarrassment. One of the more offensive updates ended up on the profile of a 14-year-old girl. The message read:
"I watched 2 girls one cup and felt hungry afterwards."
For those who know about the offensive and pornographic internet video Two Girls One Cup, it's obvious why the girl's mother got upset. (For those that don't, you're probably better off. If you can resist Googling, please do.)
This week, LMFM also won the Coke Zero account. But both placements are now in jeopardy as Coke reviews the campaigns and their interest moving forward with the agency. A Coca Cola spokesperson embarrassedly tells The Guardian:
"We apologise for any offence caused. As soon as we became aware of this we took immediate action and removed the status update from the application.
We have also taken the decision to end the promotion. We were unaware of the meaning of this line when the promotion was approved and have launched an investigation into why it was included."
Perhaps it was asking too much for the Dr Pepper team to catch every reference in its campaign. And the fact that they didn't know what Two Girls One Cup was is probably a good thing. But creating a campaign that's designed to offend puts a brand in a difficult situation.
In social media, everyone is watching. And on a site like Facebook, users' ages are readily available. Brands creating potentially controversial content have to put the extra effort in to screen for underage viewers interacting with it.
Most anything that can go wrong on social media often does. The best defense for such things is a clearly thought out plan of action throughout the life of a campaign.
In this case, LMFM's methodology on Facebook was actually smart. Rather than make people go to Dr Pepper's Facebook page, users were allowing the brand onto their personal profiles — and bringing their social graph into contact with Dr Pepper's brand.
But there wasn't enough quality control over the messages that were being sent out.
Using new media in interesting ways is just one aspect of successful branding. Brands and their agencies also have to pay attention to what they're sending out. In this case, there was a lot of room for misinterpretation, whether by 14-year olds and their parents or passerbys viewing the messages on friends' profiles.
The Dr Pepper brand was already courting controversy with its tagline of "What's the worst that can happen?"
But it looks like LMFM found out the worst that could happen with its Facebook campaign: potentially losing one of its biggest clients.