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Not what they had in mind: when Twitter campaigns backfire

The NYPD’s calls for the public to tweet photos of them with officers has gone spectacularly wrong, with a torrent of photos of police brutality. But they are far from alone.

Hearts and minds: one of the images tweeted in response to the #MyNYPD campaign. Photo: Twitter
Hearts and minds: one of the images tweeted in response to the #MyNYPD campaign. Photo: Twitter

Yesterday the New York Police Department invited citizens to post photographs of themselves with police officers using the hashtag #myNYPD. Perhaps inevitably they were not inundated with photos of grinning kids slurping sodas on brownstone steps posing with their friendly neighbourhood cops but a whole torrent of images of police brutality. In answer to the NYPD’s initial tweet “Do you have a photo w/a member of the NYPD? Tweet us & tag it”, the Occupy Wall Street account tweeted a photo of protesters and cops fighting, with the caption “changing hearts and minds one baton at a time”. Many more similar uncosy images followed.

Within a few hours, over on the West Coast, the copycat #myLAPD  had also started up, full of similarly non-heartwarming images of Los Angeles officers not posing with sun-visor-toting snowbird grandmas...

The misguided callout is just the latest in a long line of Twitter awkwardness that could come direct from the minds of Armando Iannuci or John Morton. Here a few other famous fails:

1) Waitrose

In September 2012 the super(up)market Waitrose exhorted shoppers to “Finish the sentence: “I shop at Waitrose because _________ #WaitroseReasons.” In reference to its reputation as the grocer of choice of the Ottelenghi classes, many of the spoof tweets it got back were perhaps not what it had in mind. Though it’s possible they were in on the joke all along, later writing: “Thanks again for all the #waitrosereasons tweets. We really did enjoy the genuine and funny replies. Thanks for making us smile.”

And so on...

 

2) McDonald's

Earlier the same year, hamburger behemoth McDonald’s had cheerily encouraged diners to tweet their #McDstories. On January 18, the chain sent out two tweets with the hashtag, in an attempt to highlight the "hard-working people" who provide McDonald's with their food. Sadly the McFlurry of anecdotes sent their way were not exactly along the line of “That time I had my party in Mickey D’s and Ronald McDonald came by – awesome!!” or “I *heart* Filet-O-Fish”. They soon pulled the campaign.

 

3) Home Office

More sinisterly, last August following its cockle-warming “Go home or face arrest” vans aimed at illegal immigrants, the Home Office had the brainwave to take its campaign cross-platform and, in a horrifically Orwellian update on Police Camera Action, begin live-tweeting co-ordinated raids across the country using the tag #immigrationoffenders. Open and honest, perhaps, but it was the apparent pride in the arrests that offended many:

4) J P Morgan

Over in the world of finance, in November last year the banking giant J P Morgan was mocked by Twitter users after it called for questions to one of its senior executives using the hashtag #AskJPM. More than 6,000 negative responses later, the bank was questioning the wisdom of soliciting comments on social media in the all too recently post-crash era. 

Yet for corporate brand managers, perhaps all publicity remains good publicity.

5) Starbucks

Again in 2012, fast looking like the ground zero year for public/corporate Twitter interface, the coffee chain Starbucks campaign to “spread the cheer” at Christmas was spectacularly mistimed, given it had recently been in the news for paying only £8.5m in tax in the UK since it had launched in 1998. Inevitably its spiced-pumpkin-latte, Deck-the-Halls joviality was hijacked by a slew of somewhat less tinselly bon mots. The company displayed its campaign on an electronic billboard in the National History Museum in London, but failed to check the messages before they went public...

And finally...

Who could forget the glittering invitation to the launch of the Scottish songstress Susan Boyle’s new album that was unfortunately tagged #susanalbumparty? We, for one, can’t - and very much doubt Susan can either.