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The Worst Social Media Ad Campaigns of 2007 (SXSW Coverage)

One of the most entertaining and interactive panels that I attended at the SXSW Interactive Festival last month in Austin, Texas  was The Suxorz: The Worst Ten Social Media Ad Campaigns of 2007. The session asked the audience to vote on last year’s campaigns with the "worst practices" but found it hard to stick to only ten, illustrating the point of how many in advertising and PR are still struggling with social media.

Here’s the breakdown:

Henry Copeland, Founder,
Steve Hall, Publisher, Adrants
Jeff Jarvis, Blogger/Prof, Buzzmachine/CUNY
Rebecca Lieb, VP & Editor-in-Chief, The ClickZ Network
Charlotte Selles, Global Brand Mgr, Beam Global

Round 1:
Selles: Molson Canadian Facebook campaign asked students to send pictures of themselves “using our product” to win a trip to Cancun. “If you have bad marketing to start with don’t even go to social marketing.”

Lieb: Carlton Draught “I think it’s a great movie, but a really bad ad.” People don’t remember the brand. It goes against David Ogilvy 101 “you gotta know what the ad was for.”

Jarvis: Hewlett Packard Pay Per Post “Pay per post is evil”. Moms being paid for blog posts resulted in turning their kids into "shills for HP” and creating a human spam blog, or “human splog."

Hall: Wal-Marting Across America was Edelman’s fake blog about a couple in an RV visiting Wal-Marts.

Round 1 Winner: HP Pay Per Post

Round 2:
Selles: Rahodeb a.k.a. John Mackey, CEO Whole Foods posted negative comments about comptitor Wild Oats on a message board hoping that the price would go down.

Jarvis: Cisco’s Human Network was "another effort to corrupt the blogosphere.” Cisco made their own entry in Wikipedia saying that they invented the “human network.” Chas Edwards from Federated Media was shown on video uncomfortably presenting “conversational advertising” as the basis for the Cisco campaign.

Hall: Coke’s response to the Mentos/Diet-Coke viral video was “this craziness with Mentos doesn’t fit with our brand personality.” Eight months later Coke invited Eppy Bird to Atlanta to perform. They were criticized because they “tried to ignore the fact that they didn’t get it and then call it their own and take all the credit for it.”

Leib: Vespa created an authentic blog with a group of enthusiasts and then lost interest. They stopped responding to inquiries from the bloggers and created negative feedback from neglect. Vespa forgot about the blog and it stayed live, yet derelict with negative comments, for 2 years before it was eventually taken down.

Henry Copeland summed up the lessons learned from round 2 as:

  • Don’t lie.
  • Don’t fake socialization.
  • Go with it.
  • Stick with it.

Round 2 Winner: Cisco’s "Human Network"

Round 3:
Lieb:’s “Going to Work for Subway”
was a nine minute video about pitching to get Subway as a client. “It
has that ring of inauthenticity. When I watch it I think of those Court
TV reenactments.” They really were pitching for Subway’s business, but
never sought their permission to release the video to YouTube.

Hall: Target Rounders campaign
seriuously misstepped when they instructed their members to lie. "We
don’t want the Rounders program to steal the show from the real star
here: Target and Target’s rockin’ Facebook group! So keep it like a
secret!” They lied.

Jarvis: Rudy Giuliani’s Campaign
showed how he was afraid of the Internet. “When he started his MySpace
page it was closed. You couldn’t get into his MySpace page.” Jarvis
proposed that Giuliani was defeated by his lack of savvy about the

Selles: Sony’s "All I want for Christmas is a PSP"
flog (fake blog) featured Charlie posing as a teenager. The ruse was
apparent and the blog received 550 negative posts on the site with many
of them being pulled by Sony.

Round 3 Winner: "Going to Work for Subway"

An additional finalist for the worst campaign came from the advance panel Facebook group. Jackie Huba was on hand to nominate Marie Digby, who’s video
of an acoustic cover of the Rihanna song Umbrella went viral on
YouTube. She was purportedly an unkonown, unsigned talent and when when
her video gained her fame and her MySpace page included a comment along
the lines of “who knew this could happen?” As it turns out, the record
company she had signed with 18 months prior knew. The Wall Street Journal exposed the deception.

In evaluating the finalists, Jeff Jarvis identified 3 trends in how these social media campaigns failed:

  • ad agencies acting like asses
  • lying to us, faking us out
  • trying to corrupt us, trying to buy authentic voice

In the discussion that followed, Henry Copeland asked "is the real
rule here just don’t get caught?" He may have a point, as some
campaigns may be using unscrupulous methods but be deemed a success if
the flaws don’t show. However, Rebecca Leib counters that bad campaigns
are "hurting legitimate Internet advertising" and calls on the industry
to police their own. "It’s what the National Enquirer did to print",
according to Jeff Jarvis.

Prior to audience voting, the panel questioned how to define the
worst campaign: the most corrupt, the most unsuccessful, the most
deceitful? All of the above.

The 2007 Suxor: HP Pay Per Post

Listen to the full session audio podcast here.


  1. Kelly Rusk
    Kelly Rusk April 7, 2008

    While these are some pretty sad stories of complete and utter social media failure, you do have to give a little credit to the brands for trying.
    Don’t get me wrong–they deserve to be scrutinized. But at least we can all learn from their mistakes.

  2. Bill Hallahan
    Bill Hallahan July 25, 2008

    Except, the only deception in this case was by the Wall Street Journal!
    The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article was wrong about Marié Digby. To anyone who followed her videos, it’s obvious that Marié Digby has always been herself.
    The WSJ article contained:

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