PR blunder for Vodafone’s latest social media campaign

This weekend mobile operator Vodafone was the latest company to fall foul of a social media marketing campaign gone wrong. Vodafone ran a social media marketing campaign called The 12 Days of Smiles where consumers had to tweet about something that made them happy and include the hashtag #mademesmile in order to win a phone.

The promotion was very quickly hijacked by anti-cut protest group UK Uncut to highlight Vodafone’s perceived failure to pay its fair share of UK tax. Not only did Vodafone fail to respond to the attack, but it continued to post the critical tweets on its marketing campaign microsite.

I was asked by Communicate magazine to comment from a PR and social media perspective. This is the full text of my quote:

It’s surprising that now social media has become a mature discipline with a substantial body of best practice and experience to draw on that many companies still make basic mistakes. The #itmademesmile initiative is just such an example. It’s reasonably creative, but only so much as it’s a variation on a theme of numerous similar make/made me smile promotions.

It’s always hard to critique other people’s work when you haven’t been party to the original brief, but I’d question if it was even right for Vodafone to attempt this marketing stunt.

When your brand is already under substantial public attack (in Vodafone’s case because of a perceived failure to pay UK tax) it’s asking for trouble to appear to ignore it and instead launch a lame marketing initiative. There were already substantial online conversations about Vodafone and many of these were angry voices, which Vodafone appeared to be doing little to address. If it had the resources to pay for a marketing campaign, it should have also had the resources to respond to its critics. Surely this was an opportunity for senior Vodafone executives to engage in genuine online dialogue with its stakeholders and customers? Social media is far too important to a company’s reputation to be left solely to marketing people.

It also appeared to suffer from poor implementation. Previous disastrous campaigns such as Skittles and #cashgordon should have told you that this sort of idea is unlikely to work without some form of moderation, especially if your brand already has problems. The internet is 24/7 and so should have been Vodafone’s response. You can’t expect it to turn off or run smoothly when you clock off at 17:30 on a Friday. Even after the problems started Vodafone could have turned it around by a swifter and more thoughtful response that engaged meaningfully with its critics. More importantly this would also have given those stakeholders and consumers who supported Vodafone some ammunition with which to help defend it.

has also covered the story.

I’m also in this week’s PRWeek in the Hit or Miss? column commenting on UK Uncut’s campaign against Topshop’s failure to pay its fair share of UK taxes.

3 Replies to “PR blunder for Vodafone’s latest social media campaign

  1. Hi Stuart,

    Common sense cannot be taught. I think you can teach people Sociology or interpersonal skills but some people just think they are in their own world. This goes right up to Tony Hayward at BP, it has nothing to do with IQ either.

    Brands fail to realise their position in the world and the community, the ones that understand this really understand it like Innocent or Ben and Jerry. The ones that don’t really don’t like Vodaphone, or Nestle.

    Dara Bell

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