How franchisors can avoid a viral campaign #fail

McDonald’s New Zealand is still reeling from the online burger campaign that left a bad taste. We take a look at how you can protect your brand from a viral campaign #fail. 

In a nutshell, the “Make Burger History” campaign invited the online community to coin and name burgers in exchange for free sides. Sure, it sounds like a light and fun way to get some brand exposure, right?

But leaving the success of your campaign in the hands of the online community can be a gamble.

“It can quickly go viral when people are quite clever or funny, which is what these brands want but it’s fairly na¥ve of someone as large as McDonald’s to think people aren’t going to have fun with it,” said Michelle Gamble marketing expert, Marketing Angels in a report by SmartCompany.

So when the golden-arched franchise launched the 10-week campaign, it started off with some light-hearted names like “The Peta Burger” and “The Sad European”.

But the clever burger names became darker before long when a range of malicious Trump and Aryan-inspired creations were also published. These were quickly removed by McDonald’s New Zealand, but are still floating around on gaming sites like Neogaf and Dorkly.

“On the internet people like to show off their creativity even if it’s in a way that’s inappropriate,” said Gamble.

But a spokesperson from McDonald’s New Zealand said the promo only went downhill at the end of the campaign.

“The overall ingenuity of our fans has been impressive and gave the campaign a massive publicity boost nearly two months after it finished.

“However it’s unfortunate some creations have been inappropriate right at the tail end,” they said.

So what can franchisors learn from this?

How to avoid an online viral campaign #fail:

  • Sometimes old is gold: it may be helpful to try old-school methods – run a competition, engage the online crowd, but don’t make all the entries public. Entries can be screened and the cleverest ones are published for the world to see.
  • Practice makes perfect: testing out a campaign with a smaller online group can be a useful indicator of a promotion’s ability to go viral (in a good way).
  • Spread out all the possibilities: ask test subjects for risks they see, and gauge whether going viral will actually give your brand exposure, or damage your brand.