You know how a lot of teary downer movies come out in January, in an effort to capture the mantle of “Best Movie of the Year” before anyone else? On January 18, it seems the McDonalds chain used that approach in their attempt to win the award for “Biggest Social Media Blunder of 2012” with the #McDStories hashtag.
Why do social media marketing ideas sometimes fail so grotesquely? Sometimes the idea is truly idiotic, or malformed, or naive. #McDStories is different. It actually seemed like a good idea for a well-known brand like McDonalds, which trades on convenience, cost, speed and a chipper all-American wholesomeness. The problem is that McDonalds is well-known to different people for different reasons.
Creating a hashtag is like naming a child. You’d like him to get through kindergarten without being tormented because of his name. But you’ll never know if the name you give him at birth will be considered wierd by the other kids, or so popular that he sinks into a sea of Coreys or Parkers. If an infamous criminal or Hollywood star arises with the same name, you can’t control that. So you choose a name and bear it. That’s what McDonalds did.
So what was the mistake?
In using the #McDStories hashtag, their first few posts were about the people who provide the restaurant chain with raw materials, such as farmers. The genesis of their error resides here, because it led Twitter users to align the campaign with where McDonalds gets their food, not the family-friendly sappiness the brand offers to the public.
No doubt McDonalds was hoping that the campaign would morph into people posting about the time they took the kids’ soccer team out for burgers, held a birthday party, found a much-needed rest stop on a long trip, or shared moments after a fun day out. In other words, they needed parents; People like me, who actually have stories like this but have no time to tweet about it. Why? Because we have kids.
So they reached a different audience instead; Socially plugged-in, cynical, humorous young adults without kids, who do have time to tweet about an unethical brand they abandoned long ago and don’t believe in.
Could it have been avoided?
It actually could have been, if McDonalds used their legendary brand awareness acumen to appeal to their traditional audience with a broader campaign. In other words, soften the ground with radio, television, and parent-oriented websites, infusing the hashtag with the kind of stories they want their audience to tell, and invite them to use it on social media platforms. McDonalds is not grassroots, and can never be. Even parents like me see it as a necessary evil. It can not drive a social campaign that is not top down. Period.
Here’s the worst part: This social campaign was clearly attempted without any such strategy, and #McDStories backfired, so there’s that. But this is really a tragic double-fail. Here’s why: the notion of using real customer stories to strengthen McDonalds’ community relations, a very powerful idea that is well-aligned with their brand, is now dead. Not just the hashtag; but any stories at all.
There is one silver lining: Clearly, McDonalds has learned that it should never, ever, remind people that its food once ever existed as chickens, beef steers, or potatos.