When A Social Media Campaign Goes Bad


An interesting case study has recently emerged in New Zealand that underscores the power of social media… and how it must be wielded CAREFULLY.nbr-promo-image

National Business Review (NBR) chose to leverage social media to promote its 40th Birthday via a competition of sorts. Entrants were asked to submit a brief story on how they would celebrate winning their own weight in Veuve Clicquot Champagne. The entry implied a popular vote process, and entrants jumped on board via their social networks to solicit support for their entry. A brilliant move by NBR and by Veuve Clicquot – to motivate its audience to leverage their social networks to promote the 40th Birthday. Cheers from here for the idea!

But the story does not end so well for National Business Review (or Veuve Clicquot). After one particular entrant appeared to run away with the popular vote, NBR indicated it would take the top ten voted entries and have a judging panel choose a winner. Fair enough except… NBR did not make this clear to the entrants in advance.

What is one of the most important elements of a social media strategy? TRANSPARENCY. And this is where NBR failed.

The fallout is beginning to reach a fevered pitch in New Zealand as bloggers and mainstream media are now berating NBR for its lack of transparency. True to the nature of social media, the court of public opinion is speaking out and it’s not pretty. A few comments from blogging community:

My message to the National Business Review is that you have lost something infinitely more valuable than my subscription. You have lost both my respect and my trust. That is hard to do, and even harder to undo.”

“I cannot put up with a tawdry run competition which had the entire blogging and related Facebook communities, engaging and participating. The amping up of the competition to boost their online stats for advertisers. Then the invoking of the most pitiful of terms and conditions…”

“Quite sim­ply NBR and Veuve Clic­quot can no longer be trusted as either a source for news or as a decent lux­ury brand when they bla­tantly make up rules as they go along…”

“Who can trust the National Business Review? …it seemed that while the NBR were happy enough to lead people on with it, they were only doing so to milk as much attention and traffic to their website as possible.”

The postings continue and now a dedicated Facebook page has been created as a result of the situation, with further comments propogating throughout.

Do you suppose this was the result that NBR anticipated when it launched the campaign? NO. Could this have been avoided? YES.

NBR failed the transparency test when it built the campaign. If there is one thing we learned from the TGI Friday’s “Woody” campaign of 2009, it’s that you must set clear expectations and be able to deliver upon those expectations. It took TGI Friday’s 10 days to fix their redemption mistake, but they made good on EVERY promise… even though it cost them a few extra $$ along the way.

NBR and Veuve Clicquot opened the social media door when they created the campaign. The best move they can make now is to create extra space on the podium, include the popular vote winner and celebrate. Maybe next time they will plan their social media strategy more thoroughly, and make sure that the rule of TRANSPARENCY is heeded.

What failed social media campaigns have you experienced? How did they fail you?

EDIT – Five days after the social media eruption occurred, NBR posted this apology and awarded the popular vote winner a grand prize as well. A graceful apology with a bit of humor, it is interesting that NBR states it did not intend to “compromise transparency.” No doubt a lesson learned by NBR in how to properly engage in the social media environment. 


Dr. Colin N. Clarke is a senior strategist for The Flint Group who studies how and why people choose to consume information. Follow him on Twitter @colinnclarke or on Facebook at

Sign up for email updates!

By signing up, you agree to receive emails from Flint Group. Unsubscribe at any time by clicking on the unsubscribe link at the bottom of our emails. Questions?