When Oscar Wilde said “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about”, he never could have envisioned the vitriol that exists in today’s communication landscape. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at #MakeItHappy: Coca-Cola’s Super Bowl Ad to Champion Online Positivity.

“Our goal is to inspire America to become a collective force for positivity,” said Jennifer Healan, Coca-Cola’s Group Director of Integrated Marketing Content. “The Big Game provides a great platform for us to showcase the next chapter of Coca-Cola storytelling. The broadcast is first and foremost, but ‘second-screen’ engagement, like what we’re doing with #MakeItHappy, is what inspires people to participate and will keep the movement going well beyond the Big Game.”

Sounds great, right? Position arguably the most recognized brand in the world next to a message of positivity and hope. Fast forward two weeks…

Tricked Into Quoting Hitler, Coca-Cola Suspends Automated Tweet Campaign.

Twitter promotes their service as a way for businesses “to share information about their services, gather real-time market intelligence, and build relationships with customers, partners and influencers.” So what happened in the Coca-Cola #MakeItHappy campaign?

The hashtag was hijacked. Twitter users, including high profile pop culture blog Gawker, took advantage of the automated retweet aspect of the promotion and used it to quote, of all things, Adolf Hitler’s manifesto “Mein Kampf.”

Rather than take Gawker and individual Twitter users to task for making light of the perpetrator of the Holocaust, Coca-Cola folded gracefully. In a statement to Adweek, Coca-Cola reiterated that “The #MakeItHappy message is simple: The Internet is what we make it, and we hoped to inspire people to make it a more positive place. It’s unfortunate that Gawker is trying to turn this campaign into something that it isn’t. Building a bot that attempts to spread hate through #MakeItHappy is a perfect example of the pervasive online negativity Coca-Cola wanted to address with this campaign.”

What can marketers learn from this example? After all, the access to consumers offered by social media sites is extremely seductive. With it’s 288 million monthly active users, Twitter should be, and for the most part is, a marketer’s dream. Companies that respect their audience, cultivate relevant content and engage on a personal level can build meaningful relationships with customers, partners and influencers. That said, no amount of pre-planning could prevent what happened to Coca-Cola; and in my opinion, their response was swift and ideal under the circumstances.

In a bit of ironic foreshadowing, Andy McMillin, VP and GM of Coca-Cola Trademark Brands, noted in Coca-Cola’s press release announcing the #makeithappy campaign what would ultimately be the lesson learned when a hashtag attacks: “We’re all surrounded by stories of online negativity, and it’s a concern that only continues to grow within society. We hope this campaign inspires people across the country and around the world to show more positivity in their online actions, and to stop and think before posting a negative comment.”

Like what you just read? Tell our blog author, Patrick Kuhlen, as you soak up some positivity via the Coca-Cola #MakeItHappy video playlist.