When social media goes bad: a cautionary tale Mike | July 25th, 2011

One of the most enduringly popular ad campaigns in memory is from the California Milk Processor Board – “Got Milk” has become an iconic part of the cultural landscape and has been shared, copied, parodied, and imitated over and over again. Although that campaign pre-dated the rise of the social media, it is a great and early example of the viral effect that can sometimes occur with a fresh new campaign.

A few of week’s ago, the Milk Board and their agency, San Francisco-based Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, launched a new social media campaign, a tongue-in-cheek look at how drinking “milk can help reduce the symptoms” of premenstrual syndrome. The campaign, however was targeted at men, and a micro-site, with the URL “everythingidoiswrong.org,” was set up and labeled for men as “your home for PMS management.” The site was launched around two weeks ago and originally scheduled to be live through the end of August. The site’s content included lists of “apologies” that men could use with women with PMS symptoms.

Well, guess what? It happens that a campaign meant to be funny and provocative can actually turn out to be tasteless and sexist. Contrary to popular myth, obnoxious content on the web does not always go over so well. After just a few days, the Milk Board found themselves in the middle of a firestorm of criticism on Twitter, Facebook, and the blogosphere as women rose up . Even FunnyorDie came up with a vicious parody ripping the campaign.

The lesson? Never assume that you know what will happen once your campaign is released into the wild and never assume that what you think is funny will be seen that way by the other 99.999999999% of the online world. In the end Goodby and the Milk Board took the site down after 12 days and are now redirecting the original URL to a site titled “Got Discussion” where they are working earnestly to undo the damage done.

Images: gotmilk

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  • Caryn Starr

    I am a woman and I think this is a clever campaign, very cute and lighthearted. Women who were offended really need to take a reality check and search for their sense of humor. Lighten up, ladies!

  • S. Guru

    Well they clearly got some press from it – even if bad, I didn’t know milk was such a good idea in our house.  But it’s likely not safe to say it was universally bad.  Perhaps there’s a lesson here too for assessing how far to listen to social media – where anyone can comment and seem to “drive” the results.  I’d like to hear how the companies knew it was worth listening to the whiners.  Ones who are happy often don’t respond, so how do you filter out the drive-by ragers?
     
    Buying some milk this afternoon…

  • http://marsdenassociates.com Anne

    Part of this cautionary tale is to remember that is it almost always OK to poke fun at yourself, and almost always a bad idea to poke fun at a segment of your fan base…no matter how humorous their plight might be!

  • Mike

    @Caryn Starr: Thanks much for the comment. I can see how many people would agree that it was a fun campaign. However, “there’s no accounting for taste” and in social media, you need to anticipate the full range of responses to your campaign; some will like it and others may not – the trick is anticipating what could go wrong and making sure that you don’t expose your brand to the damage that can (and in this case DID) occur.

  • Mike

    @S. Guru – so true, even bad press can have some value. I do believe that the folks over at Got Milk could do without the negative coverage and the anger directed their way and would MUCH prefer the positive coverage that a really successful campaign can bring.

  • Mike

    @Anne: Spot on comment! Always carefully consider your audience when designing social media (or any marketing) campaigns!

  • Anonymous

    @Anne: Spot on comment! Always carefully consider your audience when designing social media (or any marketing) campaigns!

  • Anonymous

    @S. Guru – so true, even bad press can have some value. I do believe that the folks over at Got Milk could do without the negative coverage and the anger directed their way and would MUCH prefer the positive coverage that a really successful campaign can bring.

  • Anonymous

    @Caryn Starr: Thanks much for the comment. I can see how many people would agree that it was a fun campaign. However, “there’s no accounting for taste” and in social media, you need to anticipate the full range of responses to your campaign; some will like it and others may not – the trick is anticipating what could go wrong and making sure that you don’t expose your brand to the damage that can (and in this case DID) occur.

  • http://www.facebook.com/silkeys Silkey’s Modna Ode?a

    I am a woman too,but working in marketing made me immune to predictive programming reactions (in other words I still possess the privilege of critical thought) so I will tell you what I think about this campaign:
    This campaign obviously pissed off girls as well as tapped guys on the shoulder with the good old “here’s something you can relate to” trick. Both reactions stem from the relative truth about women acting up when their estrogen levels drop near the beginning and end of their menstrual cycle,it’s very natural but still nobody likes cliches,especially when they’re borderline sexist.They also used this truth to implant a lie into the campaign which is that “Milk reduces PMS symptoms” which I seriously doubt is the case when we take in account the industrial process of milking cows and the number of medication,antibiotics and chemicals used in keeping the cows alive,milk fresh and package neat. If anything, industrialized milk makes PMS worse.Still,it doesn’t matter if it’s the truth or not since ads are not meant to be educational but subtly convincing so if you ever told your wife to “go get some milk” after a bitchy comment she made,you probably fell for it.
    If this ad pissed you off and you went public about it,they got what they wanted.
    If this ad didn’t piss you off and you found it entertaining, they got what they wanted.
    If this ad did not leave any impression on you except for the nicely done semi-HDR photos and the cool retro font,you’re probably a designer like me.
    So you see, in any way, they got exactly what they wanted – massive viral publicity.

  • Nila

    I have to wonder if they tested and if they did, what kind of testing they did. It’s not like it’s the agency’s first rodeo. If they tested properly, it seems they would have foreseen such a strong reaction. Or maybe not.

  • Anonymous

    How ridiculous is this!

    To think that people can no longer take a joke in stride and let it be what it is speaks to much more than just what some perceive as the milk ads being “sexist”…

    I feel that nothing could be further from the truth.

    In fact, my Internet marketing firm deals with this type of stuff all the time in that we try and come up with clever, catchy and yeah, sometimes a little edgy material in order for our clients to be seen and heard.

    Call me a caveman, a neanderthal if you will, but I feel there is honestly nothing wrong with these ads and in fact, if we are being COMPLETELY honest with ourselves, what guy hasn’t had to come up with a line like this at least ONCE in his life — which is what makes it funny.

    Ladies: So it’s OK to talk about guys leaving the seat up after peeing or “manscaping” disasters, but guys can’t go on a tongue-in-cheek, all-in-good-fun romp talking about an issue that has faced us square in the jaw at one time or another?

    Got Milk?

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  • http://www.praeterdesign.com josh

    Well I for one think it’s about time to have the ridiculous stereo types pointed at women. I can’t watch the tube for a minute without rolling my eyes at the way men are portrayed in advertising—and just all around television—as the additional child, the grunt, the man-baby, the x-box junky, or the beer-gut jersey wearing coach potato.

  • Anonymous

    @Silkey’s Modna Ode?a: thanks much for the thoughtful comments. I agree with everything you said except the end where you say, “If this ad pissed you off and you went public about it,they got what they wanted.” I have a hard time believing that the net effect of the pushback they received was beneficial. They invested real money and resources into this campaign and did not receive the positive impact that they planned for. In spite of the old saying about no such thing as bad publicity, in social media reputation and credibility is everything and both the agency and the client lost some of each with this campaign. 

  • Anonymous

    @josh: Ha! Agreed that everyone should be fodder for humor, but I don’t agree that women are not portrayed as stereotypes in advertising and media. When was the last time you saw a beer commercial that was not loaded down with model-types? And how many incredibly sexy CSI investigators are there in the world? If you watch cop shows or beer commercials you would have the impression that that’s all there were.

  • Anonymous

    @Biquitous: thanks so much for commenting. While I agree that folks need to have a sense of humor, it is also the responsibility of marketers to consider their audience as they craft a campaign. Like it or hate it, this particular campaign did not take into account the fact that a significant portion of their audience is made up of woman; and, clearly, didn’t consider the ways that things might go wrong. They did their own agency and their client a disservice by not thinking it through. 

  • Anonymous

    @Nila: so true – you have to wonder why they didn’t take the time to analyze possible reactions to the campaign.

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