Dr Pepper Facebook Blunder Is Latest in a String of Risky Promotions

  |  July 20, 2010   |  Comments

The soda brand's U.K.-based agency Lean Mean Fighting Machine may have pushed the envelope too far. An industry report says Dr Pepper could dismiss the social agency after a review.

Will Dr Pepper can its social media agency over "1 cup"? Whether or not the beverage brand will retain the services of U.K.-based Lean Mean Fighting Machine appears an open question after an embarrassing Facebook development over the weekend.

A marketing debacle - involving the infamous "2 Girls 1 Cup" porn video that went viral in 2007 - brought a Facebook campaign for Dr Pepper to its knees, The Guardian first reported.

The soda brand, part of the Atlanta-based Coca Cola Company, was running a promotion that asked its fans/"People Like This" to allow their status updates to be taken over for the chance to win $1,000. The idea behind the campaign was to post fun-but-embarrassing messages under a user's name that could be seen by Facebook friends.

Michael Scissons, CEO of social media company Syncapse, spoke to ClickZ about the campaign. "It was a program - where if you would have looked at it in the beginning - that would have been something easily deemed as a risky activity," he said.

DPcup.jpg Lean Mean Fighting Machine's plan went awry when the following post appeared underneath the name of a 14-year-old girl who lives in Glasgow, Scotland: "I watched 2 girls one cup and felt hungry afterwards." The girl's mother eventually saw the porn-referencing post and complained to Coca Cola. At first, the soda giant offered the woman - who has been referred to as simply "Mrs. Rickman" in The Guardian's report - accommodations for a night in London, including a hotel and theater tickets.

Yet, Mrs. Rickman balked at the offer and continued to protest about the campaign. On Sunday, Coca Cola pulled the plug on the effort, apologized for the fiasco, and announced an investigation into its online advertising procedures. According to a Brand Republic report, Lean Mean Fighting Machine will be put through a review and could lose the Dr Pepper account it picked up only three months ago.

According to The Guardian, when reviewing a variety of messages for the campaign, Dr Pepper's social media team approved the "1 cup" language and now claims to not have known what the words were referencing. However, it's been characteristic for Lean Mean Fighting Machine to flirt with social media controversy while serving the Dr Pepper brand.

The Facebook initiative was a part of an ongoing creative theme, "What's the Worst that Could Happen?" The Lean Mean Fighting Machine-developed initiative has included a risqué Chatroulette Dr Pepper play for April Fool's Day involving a young woman in a revealing cheerleader outfit (embedded below). Meanwhile, the Facebook message served to Mrs. Rickman's daughter and her online friends was delivered through an app that chose the updates randomly. Other examples of the pre-written messages included "lost my special blankie. How will I go sleepies?," "what's wrong with peeing in the shower?," and "never heard of it described as 'cute' before."

When asked about Dr Pepper's "1 cup" problem, Kevin Barenblat, CEO of social media agency Context Optional, compared the risks involved with innovative marketing campaigns to an outdoors adventure. "Social in particular is like navigating a class 5 river rapid, and without a proper guide many brands are likely to find their raft capsized," he said.

Scissons from Syncapse said the overall Facebook effort's intended results were interesting. While the agency CEO made clear that he hadn't personally interacted with the campaign before it was shelved, he said the information he's read and heard about the initiative left some favorable opinions.

"The way they were going beyond the Facebook page and looking to engage right within a user's profile was something I think had some merit and interest behind it," Scissons said. "They were trying to go where people are and interacting while looking to create conversation... That was something I like."

Follow Christopher Heine on Twitter at @ChrisClickZ.

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Christopher Heine

Christopher Heine was a senior writer for ClickZ through June 2012. He covered social media, sports/entertainment marketing, retail, and more. Heine's work has also appeared via Mashable, Brandweek, DM News, MarketingSherpa, and other tech- and ad-centric publications. USA Today, Bloomberg Radio, and The Los Angeles Times have cited him as an expert journalist.

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