Danger: QR codes! Handle with care

October 24, 2013  |  Russ Martin  |  Comments

Just because the digerati are excited about something doesn’t mean you need it

QR Codes Kill Kittens, the latest from Scott Stratten, president of Oakville, Ont.-based UnMarketing, is a series of short cautionary tales for marketers in a digital world. QR codes, in Stratten’s opinion, are symbolic of how marketers latch onto digital tools because they’re impressive as an idea, rather than effective as a tactic.

Stratten takes swipes at brands that jump on other web fads and trending topics, while also exposing missteps in more established digital platforms like social.

Ahead of its Oct. 15 release, Stratten led Marketing through fi ve examples from the book of brands making social gaffes—and what they can do to bounce back. We also asked him to rate each blunder from 1 for “oops” to 10 for Paula Deen levels of brand damage.

Kitchenaid (rating: 8 )

At the height of the 2012 U.S. election, Kitchenaid tweeted: “Obamas gma even know it was going 2 b bad! She died 3 days b4 he became president.”

Why: It was a mis-tweet. If Kitchenaid said this offcially,that would be different.

What Went Wrong: They didn’t have a second phone linked to a personal Twitter account! Also, using any account, this was just a terrible comment to make.

Lesson Learned: Don’t say something on social unless you’d want it on a billboard with your name and your employer’s name on it.

Bouncing Back: This isn’t a social media problem to me. This is a hiring problem. How you recover is by removing the person.

Pabst Blue Ribbon (rating: 9)

The Canadian Twitter handle for Pabst tweeted a picture of a chalk board sign outside a bar with the text: NO FAT CHICKS.

Why: It was on purpose, it was under the brand and it was horrible. I don’t know if a beer company could say something more insulting.

What Went Wrong: Not only was it on purpose and under the offcial account, they tried to defend it by saying, “This isn’t our opinion, we just saw it.”

Lesson Learned: Anything you tweet or retweet, unless you put a disclaimer before it, implies you endorse it. It’s like sending a note under your letterhead.

Bouncing Back: Well the American label actually did recover, tweeting to Pabst in Canada: “That’s really shitty. I know you guys are owned by Sleeman up there but you should delete and apologize.”

Gap (Rating: 10)

While Hurricane Sandy was tearing up the Eastern Seaboard, the Gap used Foursquare to “check-in” to the storm, then added: “We’ll be doing lots of Gap.com shopping today. How about you?”

Why: This was an attempt to leverage a natural disaster. It upset me more than Kenneth Cole because it was serious, not even a “joke.”

What went wrong: Honestly, I don’t know. I can’t believe this went through management and got approved. I can’t fathom that no one looked at this and said: maybe be shouldn’t “leverage” the hurricane.

Lesson Learned: Brands need to do one of two things when something like this happens: either shut up or help.

Bouncing Back: I don’t know how you recover from this. The damage is done when you do it. Give the token apology and token donation, but next time use your head.

Kenneth Cole (rating: 9)

During the Arab Spring, Kenneth Cole posted a tweet suggesting riots in Cairo were due to the fashion brand’s spring sale. It was later revealed the designer himself had posted it to the brand’s Twitter account.

Why: This was not a mistaken hashtag incident where someone used a hashtag without checking why it was trending. This was a deliberate attempt to tie a brand to the riots and the fact it was Cole himself tweeting it, made it even more offensive.

What Went Wrong: This is a prime example of why some executives shouldn’t tweet. Somebody who has been insulated by layers of yes men probably shouldn’t have unfiltered access to the general public.

Lesson Learned: When you say something as a joke in passing on Twitter, it lives forever

Bouncing Back: They could make a token donation, but I don’t know if it would help. That’s all I see now when I see Kenneth Cole the label. It makes my stomach queasy.

Wendy’s (Rating: 4)

The brand distributed flyers asking consumers to tweet to @Wendy’s instead of @Wendys, inadvertently directing hundreds of tweets to a surprised Canadian consumer named @Wendy since Twitter doesn’t recognize apostrophes.

Why: They weren’t trying to cash in on mass destruction, like Kenneth Cole or the Gap but they expended considerable resources putting this out in an attempt to increase the social conversation, which flew out the window when they put the wrong handle on it.

What Went Wrong: Somebody in branding probably said, ‘No, no. Our brand uses an apostrophe. We have to put it in.’

Lesson Learned: Even though it might be correct brand grammar, it’s not correct social grammar.

Bouncing Back: Involve social experts in the approval process. Whatever medium you’re trying to use, you need to involve a person who has an expertise with it.

This story originally appeared in the Oct. 21 issue of Marketing, on newsstands now, and delivered in print and on iPad to our subscribers.

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