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McDonald’s Twitter ad campaign backfires as customers vent anger

January 25, 2012

Critics of McDonald’s have turned the fast-food chain’s ad campaign on Twitter against it, unleashing a torrent of abusive tweets in the latest example of how social media marketing can backfire.

McDonald’s bought two “promoted tweets” using Twitter’s nascent advertising system, which it hoped would encourage happy customers to share their “McDStories” on the quick-fire messaging site.

But the clickable “hashtag” McDonald’s used to aggregate these tweets was quickly hijacked by less-than-satisfied diners, who used Twitter to vent claims of food poisoning and allegations of low standards of employee and animal welfare.

Such was the volume of negative stories using the #McDStories hashtag that McDonald’s was forced to pull the ad campaign – which had meant to focus attention on the quality of its ingredients – within hours. Clicking on a hashtag takes any visitor to Twitter’s website to a list of the latest and most popular tweets on the subject, which in the case of McDonald’s was dominated by hostile messages.

Rick Wion, social media director for McDonald’s USA, acknowledged that the campaign had not worked out as the company had hoped.

“With all social media campaigns, we include contingency plans should the conversation not go as planned,” Mr Wion said. “The ability to change midstream helped this small blip from becoming something larger.”

Marketing mishaps notwithstanding , McDonald’s continues to show strength amid a weak global economy. Yesterday it reported robust fourth-quarter and 2011 earnings as customers flocked to its restaurants.

Although Twitter says most advertisers are happy with promoted tweets, the McDonald’s incident last week – dubbed “McFail” by some observers – follows backlashes against campaigns from brands including Wendy’s, a fast-food chain, and Qantas. The Australian airline’s promotion came after it grounded its fleet and led to angry tweets from customers.

“Social audiences aren’t going to respond in the ways you might hope to what is transparently a marketing ploy,” said Paddy Herridge, chief operating officer of Social360, a social media monitoring firm.

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