Do not give the internet all powers of decision! Shouldn’t we know better already?

In May 2017, Walkers Crisps launched an interactive Twitter contest to promote the upcoming Champions League. To enter the contest, all users had to do was to upload their selfies with the hashtag, #WalkersWave, for a chance to win tickets to the football finals.

In response to entering the contest, Walkers’ twitter bot sends out an automated video that features the submitted selfie alongside a jovial Gary Lineker. “Nice selfie!”, Lineker would exclaim, after inspecting the image.

Interactive marketing campaigns always seem like a good idea on paper. Except that in this instance, the well-meaning people at Walkers evidently overestimated the kindness of Twitter users. Why else would they have automated this entire process, and allowed the campaign to run without human intervention?

As it inevitably turned out, the campaign was hijacked by internet pranksters. At least Lineker took it in good humor.

As to the actual videos? Well, have a look at them for yourself.
Nice selfie, eh? Walkers’ latest interactive ad stars football legend, Gary Lineker, complimenting the mugshot of serial killer Fred West.

Oh, and, did we mention that the selfie was also superimposed onto a person doing the Mexican Wave?

Predictably, Walkers responded by pulling the ad and responding with an apology. But not before the ad has made its rounds on the internet.

There are three preliminary things to be gleaned from this incident:

1. Automated social media content is good. 
2. User-generated content is also good. 
3. But combining the two, without reinforcing it with additional policing? Well, you might want to proceed with caution.

But if businesses want to combine the two, they need to ask themselves two key questions: What are the things that can possibly go wrong? And if things do go wrong, what are the damage-control strategies to enforce right away? At the end of the day, you must be able to take control.

It all seems commonsensical enough. But ironically, this isn’t the first time such a marketing screw-up has happened.Remember Boaty McBoatface?

Walkers’ marketing gaffe perfectly illustrates the dilemma involved in modern digital marketing. Not only should brands strive to engage social media users on the one hand, they also have to protect the brand’s image from being tarnished by pranksters, on the other hand.

On a slightly less obvious level, Walkers’ marketing screwup also illustrates the essence of the relationship (or lack thereof) between consumers and brands. As one commentator deftly points out, consumers do not love brands – they merely love what brands provide. If people on the internet have no qualms about making amusement for themselves at the expense of others, then all the more so when a big corporation becomes the target of abuse.

There is also a fundamental disconnect between Walkers and its audience. Who, outside of desperate Gary Lineker fans, would want their selfie poised beside the man? The lesson is clear: Don’t make assumptions. Listen to your consumers, and find out what they want.

On the bright side, there’s always the dictum, “there is no such thing as bad publicity” to turn to. Then again, for all you know, Walkers’ PR team may be rejoicing. While it’s certainly true that the crisp giant now looks a bit dumb, the incident also made #WalkersWave trend on Twitter.

Consumer decisions are unlikely to be impacted, for it’s highly implausible that someone would look at a bag of Walkers crisps and go “My Lord! Walkers support rapists! Think I’ll switch to Doritos now!”

If, on the other hand, the main priority in this marketing stunt lies in gaining brand recognition, then Walkers would have fulfilled its aim. In the grand scheme of things, whatever negativity that has been created would only be like small ripples in a large pond.

At the end of the day, most people (and certainly Twitter pranksters) are going to remember this incident by the amusement it caused. Just goes to show that, for Walkers, all’s far from being lost!