Three very unsuccessful digital campaigns focused on social change or education were Dove's Real Beauty Campaign, The Department of Education's promotion of W.E.B. DuBois of Twitter, and Pepsi's Live For Now Campaign. Below the findings on these campaigns are presented.
- Dove's Real Beauty Campaign backlashed on two different occasions: once because of an ad deemed racist, another time because of a marketing stunt that left social media users confused.
- Dove's Real Beauty Campaign has been aiming at examining the concept of feminine beauty and at promoting different visions of beauty to empower women of all races, body-shapes, and sexualities for fifteen years, making more of a social education movement than a gimmick to increase sales.
- Unfortunately, in October 2017, Dove released an ad portraying a black woman washing herself with Dove soap and becoming white because of it. The ad received a huge backlash on social media due to its explicit racism.
- Another unsuccessful campaign moment was when Dove experimented with different forms of soap-packaging to reflect the diverse nature of female body-shapes. Social media users made fun of the abstract shapes the bottles had taken and the message was completely lost.
- On both occasions, Dove was targeting women across race and body-shape lines but ended up alienating their clients instead because of the insensitivity of their message.
- Despite promoting inclusivity and diversity, Dove's repeated advertisement mistakes show their lack of understanding of the issues they are trying to promote.
Department of Education
- In February 2017, the U.S. Department of Education released a tweet promoting the words of the notorious American sociologist W.E.B. DuBois as part of the Department's ongoing educational project.
- However, the Department of Education's tweet misspelled DuBois' name, which undermined the point they were trying to make, especially considering they are the Department of Education.
- Worse, the Department of Education made another spelling mistake when they apologized for the typo, ridiculing them even further.
- Even though the mistakes were relatively innocent, social media users were quick to point out the dissonance between the Department of Education's literacy intentions and its Twitter account's lack of literacy skills.
- The target audience for the Department of Education's tweet must have been educated Americans who knew who W.E.B. DuBois was. In that sense, they were successful, since their audience was able to point out the spelling mistake in DuBois' name.
- In 2017, Pepsi unrolled a new ad for their "Live For Now" Campaign. The ad featured Kendall Jenner modeling while a protest was happening in the streets; Jenner decides to leave the photo shoot, joins the protest, walks up to the front line and offers the policeman in front of her a Pepsi, seemingly saving the day.
- The ad received huge backlash on social media for trivializing Black Lives Matter and police brutality while providing a clear example of white-saviorism and the co-opting of social movements for consumerist purposes.
- The backlash was so intense that Pepsi decided to end its "Live For Now" Campaign altogether.
- With this ad, Pepsi was targeting millennials involved in social issues and was hoping to position itself with millennials in their fight. The company failed, however, to understand the intricacies of the struggle for social justice, alienating the audience they were trying to connect with.
- The use of Kendall Jenner was also a mistake due to her controversial status as a celebrity and her scandals surrounding her appropriation of black culture.
Lack of understanding of the subject
Lack of respect for their target audience:
The request seemed rather straightforward at first, so our initial strategy was to research lists of the worst social media campaigns. We expected to find a lot of search results about U.S. politics, but in fact, we could only find lists of unsuccessful marketing campaigns used by U.S. brands on social media (such as IHOP, McDonald's, and so on). These did not seem relevant to the request since they did not pertain to social change or education. We, therefore, narrowed down our search to political campaigns; however, we quickly realized political campaigns are not merely digital, they encompass a wealth of complexities such as rallies, fundraisers, etc. Furthermore, their success is not judged on the awareness they raise on social issues, but rather on whether the candidate wins.
Another issue we were facing is that if a lack of success was defined by a lack of interaction with the campaign, then it would be extremely hard for us to find these campaigns since nobody would be talking about them. As soon as information was available about a campaign, it meant the campaign had enough traction to be written about in news outlets. Besides, a successful campaign to raise awareness on local issues could still get very little media coverage. So instead of thinking of an unsuccessful campaign as a campaign with minimal interactions, we decided to think of them as campaigns receiving backlash despite the social change they are ostensibly trying to promote.
We, therefore, started looking for campaigns that were interested in social change and education, but that had generated a lot of backlash on social media and found lists of ill-judged advertisement decisions made by brands in 2017, including Dove and Pepsi. We also found the Department of Education's tweet, which we found interesting because the Department of Education is not a brand, but faced a similar kind of backlash for messing up its messaging. These three campaigns were trying to promote social change and education but became infamous on social media because of the way they handled the subject material, which probably hurt the message more than anything. That was our criteria for picking them as the least successful digital campaigns.