Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have transformed the world of online marketing.
They have given businesses opportunities to promote their brands in new and inventive ways; opportunities that traditional marketing can never really compete with. Most of the time these social media marketing campaigns run to plan: you only need to look to Proctor and Gamble’s ‘Old Spice Man’ for proof of that.
Social media marketing can breathe new life into even stagnant brands.
However, it’s fair to say that social media marketing can also come with a price. When you put power in the hands of the consumer, they can occasionally use that power to embarrass and humiliate you. Sometimes online marketing campaigns can spin out of control and take on an unfortunate momentum that could never have been envisaged. If you need to be convinced of this, then look no further than Walmart and its recent joint Facebook promotion with rapper Pitbull.
It’s not only dogs that bite back: fans do too occasionally.
Walmart’s latest Facebook campaign was introduced to promote a new product called Energy Sheets, which are a caffeinated energy strip that melts on the tongue. As part of the new campaign, the superstore promised to send rapper Pitbull to whichever U.S. store managed to generate the most Facebook likes. On the face of it, the campaign seemed solid and safe. However, what Walmart’s executives hadn’t banked on was that that two online trolls would latch onto the campaign and set about trying to undermine it. These two ‘ether warriors’ decided that it would be a great idea to get as many Facebook users as possible to vote for and ‘like’ Walmart’s most-distant U.S. store on the island of Kodiak, Alaska.
The prank, anti-campaign or legitimate vote, depending on your viewpoint, was allegedly started by David Thorpe and Jon Hendren, writers at Something Awful, on June 29. The original idea was posted on Twitter, where it was shared hundreds of times in the first few hours. Thorpe wrote on his Twitter page: “Pitbull is having a contest where he’ll visit the local Walmart that gets the most FB Likes. @fart and I are sending him to Kodiak, Alaska.” The tweet was eventually posted to Reddit, where it quickly generated sufficient coverage to make it a front page story. Then things really kicked off and the campaign took on a momentum all of its own, proving the point that sometimes businesses really have to be careful what they wish for.
Although the campaign is still active and attracting votes, Walmart’s Kodiak Facebook page had attracted 66,555 likes by the end of last week. To put that in perspective, that’s ten times the population of Kodiak itself, according to 2010 Census data. Thorpe and Hendren have meanwhile continued to encourage the protest and are asking people to use the #exilepitbull hashtag in order to keep the prank alive.
Walmart has tried to minimise any embarrassment and damage by having members of the Kodiak Walmart store posing and inviting Pitbull to play in the store. The employees have also taken to Facebook to interact with fans from around the world that are sending Pitbull to Kodiak. And what about Pitbull himself? Has he seen the funny side of it? It would appear that he has. He’s even gone so far as to invite Thorpe to join on the trip to Kodiak should it prove to be the eventual competition winner: “@Arr U should come with me to Kodiak since ur are so invested in me going there bro…ur welcome 2. #exilepitbull #keeppitbull305,” Pitbull tweeted.