Social Media Case Study Mini Series: Part Two

Last week, we took an in depth look at WestJet Airlines’ extremely successful “Christmas Miracle” campaign. With a social media growth of 320% in only three short days, we can definitely look to this campaign for inspiration.

So in this second instalment of my social media case study mini series, I am going to delve into three social media marketing disasters – American Apparel “Sandy Sale,” J.P. Morgan Tweet Chat and McDonald’s #McDStories. I’ll explain why these mistakes sent their companies down in flames and give advice on what the pr/marketing personnel should have done instead.

1. American Apparel – “Sandy Sale”

In October 2012, the United States east coast was hit by one of the worst storms of the decade, Hurricane Sandy. As a category 3, it was the deadliest and most destructive storm of the season and the second-costliest hurricane in United States history.

American Apparel, a California based clothing company, decided to take advantage of this storm and create what was known as their “Sandy Sale.” They decided what better event to tie a sale to than a hurricane and sent out an email blast to their entire database. Here is the ad they sent out:


Within only minutes of this being sent out, American Apparel began receiving negative tweets and Facebook posts regarding the sale. They mentioned things such as how could people be bored during the storm, or how could people think about shopping during such a tragic situation in which people lost their lives? After receiving such negative feedback, an American Apparel spokesperson replied by saying this:

“Of course we’d never mean to offend anyone and when we put the email out yesterday it came from a good place. Retail stores are the lifeline of a brand like ours so when they are closed, we need to come up with ways to make up for that lost revenue. People forget how expensive it is to run a Made in USA brand like American Apparel and if we made a mistake here it came from the good place of trying to keep the machine going–for the sake of our employees and stakeholders.”

Like many others, I think this campaign was absolutely ridiculous in every way. If they needed to promote their brand during this tragic natural disaster, they could have targeted the rest of the country that was not affected by the storm with a campaign along the lines of this: “Let’s help, America. 20% of all purchases during the next 48 hours will be donated to helping the Hurricane Sandy survivors.” This type of campaign would have appealed to their customers because they would have felt good about purchasing clothes from the company while helping their fellow citizens. My advice to American Apparel – Think before you speak.

2. J.P. Morgan – Twitter Q&A

J.P. Morgan had the great idea to engage its consumer base through a Twitter Q&A session. Good idea? No. They forgot to do their homework and research what their brand represented to the millions of people on the Internet. They began their Q&A session on Nov. 14, 2013 with this tweet:

Screen shot 2014-04-29 at 2.58.21 PM

Well, although they were excited for this campaign in the beginning, they soon learned that it was not the right strategy to use. Negative Twitter responses, such as ” Where do I send my resume? I’m smart and have very flexible morals” and “How far do you and your financial sector gang members think you can push things before you are driven off the continent?” began pouring in, instead of legit questions to ask the company. When J.P. Morgan finally had enough, they replied with this tweet:

Screen shot 2014-04-29 at 3.08.19 PM

Even though they realized they had made a mistake, it came too late. Instead of creating a Q&A Session on Twitter, J.P.Morgan should have researched what most American’s thought of their brand and used a strategy that better suited their engagement needs.

3. McDonald’s – #McDStories

In January 2012, McDonald’s sent out two tweets about the hard-working people and quality behind McDonald’s products with the hashtag #McDStories. The hashtag was then born, but not exactly in the way McDonald’s was hoping. Negative tweets about the fast food chain began to accumulate, sharing stories about horrible things regarding McDonald’s. Here’s an example:

Screen shot 2014-04-29 at 3.19.40 PM

Now of course, McDonald’s didn’t know that the creation of this hashtag would garner such negative results. But, they should have done some research before creating such an open-ended hashtag. It would have saved them all the embarrassment on social media. If they were dead set on using the hashtag, they should have sent out an explanatory tweet saying “share your favorite McDonald’s moments with us by using the #McDStories,” or something to that effect. Also, if they wanted only positive responses, they should have given away some sort of compensation, such as a free coffee, small soft drink, etc.

When deciding to create a social media campaign, take these examples to heart. Learn from the mistakes they made and the advice I provided. Make sure you spend ample time researching to discover your brand health, your target audience, your goals/objectives, the strategies and tactics you’ll use and the methods to measure and evaluate your campaign. As long as you don’t do what these three companies did, you’ll be fine!


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