Notes on a social media crisis

Cheerios is the latest brand to take flak for an online campaign. Shouldn’t brands know better by now—or at least be better prepared?

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Making it easier to plan for this situation is the ever-growing list of case studies on social media campaign failures. Recently, there’s a new addition: General Mills’ Cheerios brand.

Folksy idea turns sour—fast

In the latest case study, Cheerios marketing executives started with a folksy idea and gave it a social media twist to introduce a campaign letting customers share memories of the brand with a downloadable smartphone app. The idea was to let users share words that would get turned into a Facebook image using the brand’s iconic logo font.

Long story short, the online masses—fueled by an anti-genetically modified foods group—attacked Cheerios’ app with words that do anything but prompt fond memories of the brand. The crisis occurred practically overnight, as thousands used the app to share their views, including “Made in a Lab” and “poison.”

The Cheerios parent company, General Mills, gave a million bucks to a California campaign to fight a requirement to label foods that use genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The donation, and the belief that Cheerios might contain GMOs, was enough to create a rogue crowd-sourcing campaign.

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