In this “Online Age” we live in, companies are constantly trying to involve the Internet in fun little ways to enhance customer involvement in their products. However, time and time again this has proven to be a poor business decision, especially from a PR perspective. The anonymity of the Internet allows the pranksters and jokesters to wreak havoc on even the most well-meaning online interaction.
Most recently, B.C. Ferries launched a campaign to have its customers name their three new foreign-built ferries. However, consumer frustration with B.C. Ferries boiled over in the stunt. Online participants chose to voice their displeasure by flooding the poll with thousands of bitterly sarcastic name suggestions. Some of these names include “The Spirit of the WalletSucker”, “Queen of Capitalism” and “The SS Service Cuts.” What was intended to be a PR gold mine turned into a PR disaster as the world learned of customer gripes. Even UK news outlet The Daily Mail did a piece on this relations snafu, noting: “frustration with the company’s constant fare hikes, at the same time routes have been cut and executives have come under fire for huge bonuses.”
We’ve seem this before, 2012 was a year of two very public online public relations failures, first with rapper Pitbull and Wal-Mart holding a voting competition to determine where Pitbull would play an exclusive concert in the city where the Wal-Mart Facebook page got the most likes. The members of website SomethingAwful got wind of this and brought tens of thousands of people on the internet to vote for Pitbull to play in Kodiak, Alaska, effectively exiling his performance. Pitbull has a reputation for being polarizing to people musically, and in this instance, the “haters” won out.
Pizza Chain Villa Fresh Italian Kitchen held the “Dub the Dew” online poll for fans to choose the name of the next flavor of soft drink Mountain Dew. However, the internet collectively decided it would be much funnier to instead flood the list with offensive and disturbing entries. They were so offensive that Mountain Dew, which was not even involved in their customer’s promo, had no choice but to kill the campaign, end the contest, apologize for the offensive entries and promise it wouldn’t happen again.
The takeaway here is that the ideal, company-loving customer who will help you expand your brand on the Internet doesn’t exist. Or, if they do exist, they are greatly outnumbered by people who are itching to make a statement, or just wreak havoc. Prepare yourself and your brand, and do yourself a favor and leave the decisions to a staff of trained marketing professionals. It’s always great to ask for your audience’s opinion, just privately, not publicly.