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Coca-Cola Gets Slammed For Vulgar Facebook Campaign

coca-colaCoca-Cola may be a business giant, but this Goliath is no match for a mom and her mouse! It all began innocently enough with a clever social media marketing plan to promote Dr. Pepper on Facebook. The program was designed to override the Facebook status box of an opted in user with fun but embarrassing quotes chosen at random.

“What’s wrong with peeing in the shower?” probably cracked up the football buddies when they saw it on Frankie’s Facebook page, but the mom of a 14-year-old girl wasn’t at all amused with what she found on her daughter’s account. The reference that started the ruckus was an homage to a particularly disgusting porno movie. A reference that has no business being tied to Facebook or Dr. Pepper, let alone the account of a child.

MrsRickman (the woman’s online user name) complained to Coca Cola and was offered theater tickets and a hotel stay as an apology. The woman was offended by the offer and took her complaint to a UK mom’s website. 1300 replies later and a wave of discussion in the media and now it looks like the marketing agency is going to take the fall. But who is really to blame?

Here’s Coca-Cola’s stance as reported by New Media Age:

“We were unaware of the meaning of this line when the promotion was approved and have launched an investigation into why it was included. We take full responsibility and will be reviewing our promotional procedures.”

Full responsibility, meaning . . .

“We have stopped all our ongoing work with Lean Mean Fighting Machine and are reviewing our relationship with the agency. We will take all steps necessary to ensure this does not happen again.”

Coca-Cola’s claim that they didn’t know the remark was pornographic simply doesn’t hold up. Even if the person who reviewed the promotion wasn’t familiar with the exact reference, the line was clearly dirty and they should have asked for clarification. But even looking beyond that particular reference, who thought it was a good idea to subject Facebook users of any age to random vulgarity? Is this really how they want to define the brand? Peeing in the shower, porn and Dr. Pepper? I’m sure they thought it was funny and hip when it was first conceived and even a little controversial and dangerous but this isn’t beer, we’re talking about, it’s a soda from a company whose slogan used to be “Sign of Good Taste.”

The lesson here is that companies need to be actively involved in protecting their reputation and their brand. This applies to the corporate giants and the small company just starting out. When it comes to social media marketing, remember that “sharing” is what it’s all about which means that the R-rated photo you offer to an adult on Twitter could end up on the Facebook of a minor with just a few clicks.

Now, I’ll leave you with a quote from the terms of service on the Dr. Pepper Facebook Fan Page:

“We encourage you to post comments, photos, videos, and links here. But please behave. We may monitor and remove inappropriate, offensive or any other postings.”

Unless, of course, they post the offensive material themselves.

What do you think? Did the mother in question make too much out of an innocent ad campaign? Or is Coca-Cola out of line?

  • http://www.marketinghipster.com Cord Silverstein

    Cynthia, thank you for the well written post and I agree with most of your points except one. I think there is a much bigger lesson here than companies need to be actively involved in protecting their brand. I think the lesson here is how flawed this campaign was from the start. Social media and really the web is about engaging, connecting and empowering its users. It is not meant to take away control as this promotion did by taking control of a users Facebook status. The larger issue here is the agency and Coke’s inability to understand social media and how to engage their target audiences effectively. Coke put their brand in jeopardy by agreeing to a social media campaign that was doomed to fail from the jump. Thanks again for your post.

    • Cynthia

      You make a good point. When I first read about the campaign, I thought it was a game where you could pick and choose funny sayings to send to friends. When I realized that it was designed to take over your own status with no options, I thought, what’s the point? At the heart of the campaign was the dare, asking who was brave enough to be humiliated in public, basically.

      Seems like there wasn’t one right move from the get-go.

    • Daniel Stevenson

      This right on the money… It really doesn’t matter if the Mother was overreacting, as Cord said this is social media and she was reacting… The campaign was definitely not thought out and both Dr. Pepper and Coke have themselves to blame. Check this post on http://www.facebook.com/gate6agency?ref=mf they have some interesting thoughts as well.

  • http://www.ckrinteractive.com Kimberly Otsuka

    I believe that the mother was right in making a big deal over this campaign. A big name like Coke/ Dr. Pepper should know to act responsible. Like it was stated earlier, this isn’t beer. If the promotion was for beer I could see these tasteless quotes being used because the audience is much older, however, Coke is a household name. There is no age group for it. Therefore, the brand must be aware of their audience. Different subjects are appropriate for different audiences. Pornographic references, especially on Facebook where everyone can see them, are not appropriate for any brand. What brand would want to be connected with the image of that, let alone Coke? They should have known when they started this campaign that inappropriate quotes would be posted therefore they should have paid closer attention when checking them. Customer interaction is good but there are always limits.
    -CKR Interactive Intern
    http://www.ckrinteractive.com

  • http://www.ckrinteractive.com Kimberly Otsuka

    I believe that the mother was right in making a big deal over this campaign. A big name like Coke/ Dr. Pepper should know to act responsible. Like it was stated earlier, this isn’t beer. If the promotion was for beer I could see these tasteless quotes being used because the audience is much older, however, Coke is a household name. There is no age group for it. Therefore, the brand must be aware of their audience. Different subjects are appropriate for different audiences. Pornographic references, especially on Facebook where everyone can see them, are not appropriate for any brand. What brand would want to be connected with the image of that, let alone Coke? They should have known when they started this campaign that inappropriate quotes would be posted therefore they should have paid closer attention when checking them. Customer interaction is good but there are always limits.

  • nicole

    I’m still wondering what is wrong with peeing in the shower? It’s environmentally friendly considering US toilets waste gargantuan amounts of water simple flushing a little urine down the sewer.

    Sounds like the only person with the dirty mind is this bizarre mother who has now let all her sons’ friends know that she watches disgusting porn and remembers their clever dialogue.

  • http://www.hayesthompson.blogpsot.com Hayes Thompson

    Why are you being so puritanical about this?

    If someone at Coca Cola didn’t know what 2 girls 1 cup was, then that’s their fault.

    And I doubt the marketing agency did it on purpose to offend children.

    There was a stink amongst mums. And quite rightly, too. But that doesn’t mean the rest of us grown-ups have to go crazy.

    So what do I think? No I doubt think the mum made too much out of it. I think YOU are making too much out of it.

    Vulgar campaign? Hardly. How many updates were written and how many offended kids? And was this an over-18 campaign? Wasn’t there some kind of disclaimer?

    This was a funny, clever, relevant idea that ended in tragedy, not because a kid died or is suffering, but because a writer stepped a little over the mark and someone at Coca Cola wasn’t wordly wise enough to know what 2 girls and a cup is.

    Neither do you, probably and that’s a shame.

    Yes it’s disgusting but it’s also part of Internet culture and folklore. It happened and no-one died doing it.

    Like I said, if the people checking the submitted updates would have known what it was, they wouldn’t have let it through. Either that or they did know what it was and they just weren’t paying attention.

    Either way, Coca Cola must take responsibility. It’s shame a great idea has been tainted. Because, you know what? I’m sure that 14 year old is absolutely fine.

    • Cynthia

      Nicole and Hayes – the point is not whether anyone was harmed, who gets a porn reference or if peeing in the shower is good for the environment.

      The point is – since when does mixing pee and porn with a popular soft drink make sense? Coca-Cola spent years building up their brand as the wholesome, “real’ product that makes people happy when they drink them. How does this new campaign fit into that scenario?

      Also, Coca-cola has admitted that the campaign wasn’t a good idea which tells me someone rubber stamped this thing without paying attention. That’s the lesson, as I said, it’s your business and you have to watch everything that goes out with your name on it.

      • http://www.hayesthompson.blogpsot.com Hayes Thompson

        Correct.

        As for the porn, like I said, I doubt anyone was thinking it should go to 14 year old girls when they wrote it. As for the pee, come on, it’s funny, it’s not serious.

        As for making sense, you do know Dr Pepper’s line is ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’ don’t you? Hence the embarassing updates (mine was something like ‘Having an all over shave soon. Mm, can’t wait to be completely hairless’ – which is funny). Excuse me but pee is funny too.

        Actually, so is 2 girls, 1 cup, although a bit risque. But like I said, I doubt they made a judgement call. I think it probably just slipped through.

        So anyway, that’s how this campaign fits in – the line is ‘what’s the worst that can happen’ – I know, I know, very ironic. But the way you’re talking, it’s almost like you don’t understand the point of the 99.5% very funny and harmless campaign.

        With people like you overreacting, it’s no wonder Coca Cola says something like the campaign wasn’t a good idea. Of course it was, which is why they signed it off. They just didn’t check every single update (I wonder how many there were – as I writer, I imagined having to write them all) – and they should have done.

        • Joan

          ‘Actually, so is 2 girls, 1 cup, although a bit risque’

          A Bit risque??? You consider a film of two women eating faeces and vomit funny and a bit risque? What on earth do you consider beyond the pale if this is your analysis of what is widely known as the most disgusting pornographic film online? I honestly don’t think it is possible to overreact to a well-known brand using a reference to 2girls1cup in a competition open to minors. Cynthia, thank you for an informative piece.

      • nicole

        I drink Coke and pee in the shower. This marketing ploy is speaking directly to me, because I LMAO when I read about this.

        I don’t mean to be a troll, and you’ll probably delete this, which is fine, but in my opinion Cynthia, you have a poor sense of humor. However, you’re doing a great job at stimulating conversation for your blog. Keep up the good work.

      • http://twitter.com/mnburgess Mark Burgess

        Coca-Cola should own the problem. Period. The responsibility for changes/improvements belong to Coke.

  • Chaz

    I’m sorry… but this is a huge pile of “waaaaah” IMO. If you’re so thin skinned that the “peeing in the shower” phrase offends you, even if you know the phrase has been used in any number of the bajillions of porn videos, then I’m sorry – maybe the Internet isn’t for you.

    It’s a sad state when things like this take the people’s attention away from things that are truly important. sigh…

    • Joan

      Chaz you misread, the mom didn’t object to the peeing in the shower phrase. The phrase put on the girl’s status was ‘I watched 2 girls 1 cup and felt hungry after’. If you know what that film is, I don’t think you’ll say the mom was being thin skinned to not want it referenced on her child’s Facebook page.

      • Chaz

        I didn’t see any reference to the “2 girls 1 cup” video in the original Marketing Pilgrim article.

        Regardless, in order for the Coke/DP app to update your status with a potentially embarrassing phrase, you have to choose to let it.

        The mother should take this up with her daughter. This isn’t a fight with Coke (although, it’s a strange bit of advertising), this mom needs to be a mom and quit pretending the world cares that she was offended by something.

        • Cynthia

          We were taking the high road by not repeating the offending phrase on our website which we like to keep PG rated.

          As for the kid and mom – the rules said 14 and up. Is that appropriate for a 14 year old?

  • http://wordgrrls.com Laura

    Good for the Mom for not backing down. There has to be line drawn somewhere. I sent in an email protest to the Huggies denim diaper ad. I posted about it being offensive on Facebook, YouTube and somewhere else I now forget. I did get something like a form letter from the Huggies company. Pretty much made me feel they did not really care as long as it sells diapers. I was bashed over and over in the forums I posted. Some claimed I must be a pervert to think of that ad as softcore porn. But, the one that sticks in my mind the most was the person who asked how everyone would feel if that baby were a girl with grown men leering at her as she walked along in her diaper. Anyway, this is a bit off topic for the Coke thing. But, along the same lines. When I read the headline of your post on 9Rules I had to come and read more and see how things worked out. If Coke did anything or just ignored it all. At least Coke had some reaction compared to Huggies who really had none.