When social networking goes wrong

Social networking is obviously an invaluable tool in terms of marketing, but as Dr Pepper has found out to its misfortune, it can also prove rather perilous. As many will know, the gaffe involved an ill-judged facebook status referring to what some may deem a less than refined video presently navigating the internet. Or what some may refer to as plain porn.

The mistake occurred as part of a stunt launched in May by which facebook members handed over control of their statuses to Dr Pepper for the chance to win a thousand pounds. The statuses would then be made as embarrassing as possible, capitalising on the company’s strap line, “What’s the worst that could happen?” The kerfuffle arose as a result of an unsuitable update being posted on a 14 year old girl’s page.  While this may well have caused irreparable damage to the brand’s image now, but without the benefit of hindsight the risk may have seemed worth taking.

What Dr Pepper and their agency, Lean Mean Fighting Machine, inadvertently stumbled upon was either a spectacular piece of bad luck or really a catastrophe waiting to happen, depending on which way you look at it. The failure to check the database of potential statuses for the kind of post that looks entirely innocent at first glance – but after a little research turns out to be incredibly explicit – is the ultimate cause of the episode, but perhaps the kind of joke necessary to properly catch the attention of your common or garden facebooker needs to be a little risqué, doesn’t it?

The problem for brands and marketers is that though social media is by far the most effective way of getting the attention of young people, there is a dangerously narrow line between humour and obscenity that has to be respectfully toed. In order to win over interest and grow your brand’s profile, visibility on sites like facebook is a good idea, but not one without its drawbacks. After all, online social networking is a relatively new phenomenon, and marketing on the platform an even newer one. Dr Pepper’s method of approaching the challenge was a clever and innovative one, but hopefully the irony of the tragic consequences that befell a drinks manufacturer whose ad campaigns highlighted the often dire results of risk-taking has not been lost on businesses and B2B marketing agencies looking to social media as a means of expression.

Carol O’Mara, Business Leader at London marketing agency, gyro