How Gawker trolled Coke, and what you need to learn from it

If you watched the Super Bowl, you may remember Coca Cola’s commercial: take nasty internet comments and turn them into smiley faces:

The commercial, like many which aired during the game, included the hashtag #MakeItHappy.  If users tweeted that hashtag, a Coca-Cola bot would take the words in the tweet and turn them into an ASCII image (an image made of text) of something happy: a balloon animal, a man sleeping in a recliner, etc:


Okay, fine, nice happy marketing campaign. Enter Gawker.  Someone Gawker came to the realization that the words could be more or less anything.  So, Gawker launched a new Twitter account – MeinCoke – and began tweeting Mein Kampf, Hitler’s autobiography – at the hashtag.

The results:


Yes, that’s Mein Kampf in the form of a snoozing man in a recliner.  Oh dear.

Unsurprisingly, Coke had to take drastic measures to stop Gawker.  Unfortunately, that resulted in the entire campaign being pulled.  In a statement, Coca-Cola said:

“The #MakeItHappy message is simple: the internet is what we make it, and we hoped to inspire people to make it a more positive place. It’s unfortunate that Gawker is trying to turn this campaign into something that it isn’t.”

Yikes.  If the campaign was to push back on internet bullying…the bullies won.

There is an unfortunate lesson that marketers and elected officials need to take from this debacle: If you are large enough, and you leave yourself exposed enough, the internet will find a way to troll you.  Trolls are everywhere.  To that end, every single social media marketing campaign you plan absolutely must be prepared for how to deal with trolls who will try to sabotage and ruin your campaign.  Most brands don’t have the ability to launch a social media effort via a Super Bowl commercial, any social media effort will create exposure.

You must be prepared to deal with trolls like Gawker, and Coke should have seen this one coming. They could have tried to block the MeinCoke account, but it’s safe to say that Gawker would have launched another account and tweeted the same thing.  They could have blocked the entire text of Mein Kampf, but then Gawker may have tried something else.

See where I am going here? Dealing with trolls can be like a cat and mouse game.  You unfortunately have to try to plan broadly for scenarios like this.

Any specific advice or examples to add? Let us know in the comments!

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