AdAge Lists The Worst Social Media Screw-Ups Of All Time, Two Automakers Make The Cut

October 7, 2010
BP fail whale

BP fail whale

We can get a little feisty when we're talking about marketing campaigns. Some people get amped about football, for others, it's flan, and for us, it's how navigable your Facebook page is. So when we see a marketing campaign that could've been awesome except for a few tragic flaws -- as we did with Subaru's "Mediocrity" campaign earlier this week -- well, that's the stuff that grinds our gears.

But as much as we poke fun at automakers and their social media shortcomings, they're doing fairly well on the whole. As proof, look no further than the venerable marketing rag AdAge, which just published "A Short History of Social Media Screw-Ups". After a quick skim of the document, we were pleasantly surprised to see just two car-related campaigns on the list -- and neither comes from the very recent past.

Screw-Up #1

First up is the Chevrolet Tahoe campaign from the spring of 2006. The campaign was a tie-in to the then-popular TV show The Apprentice, and it allowed everyday Joes and Janes to create their own ads for the SUV. 

Unfortunately for General Motors, the campaign launched at a time when the green movement was riding a strong wave of popularity. Oil prices were beginning to climb, the war in Iraq -- often seen as a battle for petroleum -- was taking a toll on American morale, and the Hurricane Katrina aftermath had kept global warming on the front pages. A big SUV like the Tahoe was a perfect target for some anger, and it got plenty, courtesy of many outrageous user-generated ads. (There's a good mashup of some of those images over at Flickr; we'd post it here, but some most of the language is pretty harsh.)

GM responded on its FastLane blog, trying to cover with, "Oh, we meant to do that. We're always happy to hear from customers, even when they're complaining." And in GM's defense, the company did start listening to consumers -- three years later, when it went into bankruptcy.

Screw-Up #2

The other automotive social media disaster cited by AdAge is also credited to GM, but the company handled this one much better. In early 2008, GM launched a new social network-slash-social media project called GMNext. As Bengt Halvorson wrote in his preview of the site:

Initially, GM says in its release, GMnext will showcase GM’s next-generation vehicles and technologies, such as its E-Flex drive system, upcoming Plug-In hybrid powertrains, and so-called Two-Mode hybrids—all of which are of interest to the younger, more educated, and more environmentally aware buyer base that the automaker needs to appeal more to. In scanning contents of the site, we also found a release on the fifth anniversary of GM Daewoo, a podcast promoting OnStar’s Stolen Vehicle Slowdown feature, and coverage of the automaker’s recent concept cars.

Bengt also expressed some concern about whether the site -- and the interaction it encouraged from the public -- would go well for GM. It didn't. As with the Chevy Tahoe debacle, visitors lobbed lots of vitriol GM's way, with the company's green technology initiatives bearing the brunt of their anger. However, GM dealt with the problems head-on via posts and comment replies. Since then, GM's social media team has continued to learn and grow: we've seen very interesting things from them in the recent past, and we expect more now that the auto show season is upon us.

We've embedded AdAge's complete slideshow of "Social Media Screw-Ups" below, in case you have nothing better to do this Thursday.


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