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

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. 

I'm a mole, innit.

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Emmanuel Macron: a populist eruption from the liberal centre

The French presidential candidate has been compared with a young Tony Blair.

The French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron came to town this week to meet Theresa May and address the London French community, whose votes he was chasing. In our age of extremes, Macron, who is 39, is that rare thing – a populist eruption from the liberal centre. A former merchant banker and economy minister in the failing Hollande Socialiste administration, he represents En Marche! (“Forward!”), which is less a party than a movement. His sudden rise would not have been possible in Britain, which is part of the stability and attraction of the parliamentary system but also its frustration.

Don’t be shy

I met Macron on Tuesday afternoon when he took questions from a small group of journalists at Central Hall Westminster. He is small and dapper, with short hair and a strong, straight nose. Because of the collapse of the Socialistes and the struggles of the discredited conservative contender François Fillon, Macron has emerged as the great hope of liberals and perhaps as the candidate to stop Marine Le Pen seizing the presidency. Unlike the Front National leader, Macron is an unashamed liberal globaliser in the model of Nick Clegg or a younger, less tormented Tony Blair. He is a passionate advocate of the EU and of the eurozone and, as a result, is under attack from the Russian media. He has been accused of leading a double life – his wife, whom he met when she was his schoolteacher, is 20 years older than Macron – and of being unwilling to admit that he is gay, or at least bisexual. His response to the Russian attacks was, he said, “to disclose the manipulation and kill the rumours”.

The far right in France has caricatured Macron as being “globalisation personified”, about which he is relaxed. In conversation, he criticised David Cameron’s referendum campaign. “His message was ‘Yes but . . .’ That is not the answer to ‘No’. I defend Europe and the four freedoms of the EU. If you are shy, you are dead.”

Not all relative

On Sunday, I received a text from one of my cousins. “The Lincoln City manager and his brother, the assistant, are called Cowley,” he wrote. “His father looks a bit like your father. Any relation? They are from Essex.” I am also from Essex, born and brought up in Harlow new town, which turned 70 this year. But I had to disappoint my cousin. My father was an only child, as was his father, so it’s highly unlikely that these Cowley brothers are even distant relations of mine.

Toast of the county

I already knew about the brothers, having been alerted to them by my seven-year-old son, who is a sports data enthusiast. Last season, Danny Cowley and his younger brother, Nicky, were working as teachers in Essex while coaching Braintree Town at weekends. This season, they have led Lincoln to an FA Cup quarter-final against Arsenal, making them the first non-League team to reach the last eight in more than a century. Lincoln are also at the top of the National League (English football’s semi-professional fifth division) and in the quarter-final of the FA Trophy, the premier non-League cup competition. The Cowleys are reported to be subsisting on a diet of toast and Marmite as they rise early each morning obsessively to study videos and analytics and prepare for the next match. They have introduced a new spirit of openness at the previously moribund club: fans watch training sessions and attend press conferences.

It’s nonsense to believe, as some do, that only those who have performed at the highest level have the authority to coach the best. Wenger, Mourinho, Sven-Göran Eriksson, Roy Hodgson, André Villas-Boas: none of them were even remotely successful players. Asked once to explain his accomplishments, Mourinho said: “I’ve had more time to study.” More English coaches – so few of whom are working in the Premier League – would do well to follow his example.

It will be fascinating to see how far the Cowley brothers progress in the game. Whatever happens next, they have reanimated interest in the FA Cup and given the resilient yeomen of Essex a small boost.

Ignore the huckster

Boris Johnson accused Tony Blair of “bare-faced effrontery” for having the temerity last week to deliver an anti-Brexit speech, which itself was an act of bare-faced effrontery. Johnson is a huckster and narcissist whose vanities have been grotesquely indulged for far too long by his cheerleaders and paymasters in the media. (A standard question to Johnson when he was mayor of London: “You do want to be prime minister, don’t you?”) No one should take anything Johnson says remotely seriously. Should the same be said of Blair?

Yes, of course he is the author of his own misfortunes and many will never forgive the former Labour prime minister for the Iraq catastrophe. Yet of all the politicians I have spoken to in recent times, Blair was the most intellectually nimble and the most alert to the defining complexities of the present moment. As he demonstrated in his speech, he also understands better than most why, in an age of intensifying ethnic nationalism, the parties of the left are failing across Europe, none more so than the British Labour Party, which looks as far away from power as it did after the 1931 election.

Journey to the centre

As an energetic and charismatic liberal, Macron has been likened to the young Tony Blair. Can he seize the progressive centre, as Blair did, and destabilise the old binary divisions of left and right? “The anti-European and anti-globalisation extremes are winning elections,” he said, in a veiled reference to Donald Trump and the vote for Brexit. “But we don’t have the same political cycles as the others. It’s time for France to do the opposite.” With that said, he thanked his interlocutors and was hurried off for a meeting with another Essex man, Philip Hammond, pursued not by a bear but by the journalist Robert Peston. 

Jason Cowley is editor of the New Statesman. He has been the editor of Granta, a senior editor at the Observer and a staff writer at the Times.

This article first appeared in the 24 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The world after Brexit