When Hashtags #Fail

At $100 – $120K a pop, a promoted hashtag is a terrible thing to screw up. Yet, it happens more often than you might think. Companies start out with the well-intentioned idea of promoting a benefit of their brand, only to have their hashtag “hijacked” by tweeps sharing negative sentiments, usually driving more engagement and virality than the original ever would have. When creating a hashtag campaign, it is always important to look at the flip side: how might someone use this hashtag to bash my brand or use it in the opposite way I am intending? If it seems super-easy to flip, come up with something else.

McDonald’s has one of the most well-known examples of hijacking. It all began with #McDStories. They were hoping to share insider stories about the hard work and preparation that goes into making each meal and obviously were looking for people to share positive experiences they’ve had with the brand.

What ensued was some of the best brand-bashing I have ever seen. Instead of sharing positive stories, people took to the hashtag in droves to share their “special” McDonald’s experiences. Here are some of the highlights:


How could they have done better? McDonald’s needed to find common ground with their customers; find a theme people would be excited to discuss. While their hashtag was nice and short, it was way too broad. This was a gimme for brand bashers; seriously, I don’t think they could have come up with a more hijackable hashtag.

Shell found itself in a similar pickle when its hashtag, #ArcticReady, came under fire by environmentally conscious Twitter users. Shell asked users to create captions for their next advertising campaign. They got a whole lot more than they bargained for when anti-drilling ads began populating their feed. Some of the best examples are captured below:


It was later found that these ads were orchestrated by Greenpeace in a highly successful counter campaign. While I applaud Shell for trying to engage its audience on social media, some companies won’t ever be able to implement a successful hashtag campaign. When your brand is in a controversial industry, it’s best not to invite a firestorm that already wanted to ignite on its own. It’s best for Shell to stick to less controversial topics to discuss like investing in renewable energy.

Coca-Cola did things a little different. Instead of their hashtag being hijacked, they were the hijackers. They successfully stole #MakeMeSmile from VodafoneUK for their Happiness campaign in December 2010 — and probably not a minute too soon. In fact, if you ask me, Coca-Cola did them a favor in redirecting the conversation. Before Coca-Cola took over the hashtag, it had already been hijacked by UK tweeps angry about Vodafone evading taxes. It was clever of Coca-Cola to jump on an existing hashtag and capitalize on the traffic it was already generating. Not only is this a clever way to get your name out to new people using and monitoring the existing hashtag, but it is also a potentially safer move since said hashtag would not solely be associated with your brand.

Recently, DBB New York hijacked the popular #FirstWorldProblems hashtag to raise awareness for WaterIsLife. People use the hashtag to complain about problems that arise in the First World such as needing to write a check to your maid but forgetting her last name or being hungry but too lazy to make food. DBB shares some of the #FirstWorldProblems tweets by having Haitians read them in front of a backdrop of destruction and poverty. Other videos were made responding to specific tweets. One man tweeted that he was upset about not being able to have his Wednesday mojito because the bar was out of mint, the video reply to him shows the journey to Haiti and what your experience would be like traveling there ending with a personal message from a young girl expressing her condolences for his issue and wishing that his day gets better. Talk about a wildly successful hijacking. The campaign is buzzing on Twitter and even though I’ve never used the hashtag I still somehow feel like a jerk. Well played, DBB. No #firstworldPRoblems for them.










My advice to those of you considering a hashtag campaign? Think and rethink that hashtag. Test it within your company. Give it to the most sarcastic person you know, and see what they can do with it. If it’s awful, don’t move ahead. #ProceedWithCaution