advertising and other stuff. no, really.



Monday, July 19, 2010

2 Girls – 1 Cup – 0 Moms.









Why is it when I talk about Dr Pepper and Facebook around here, it’s never good? Why stop now! You remember the promotion I mentioned that Dr P was running on Facebook earlier this year, the one where you let them take over your status updates as part of a larger contest? Well, it’s over. (Even though the Facebook page is still up.) Someone tipped me off Friday that one person had complained about it, but I never figured it would get pulled that quickly.

At first glance, this appears to be nothing more than one parent being overly sensitive and sharing her story with other moms. Especially given what kids are watching and listening to these days, we seem to always need to redefine what constitutes sensitive. (At the end of this post, see a Q&A that I had with the mom.)

But as the Tropicana package redesign and Motrin moms showed, you don’t mess with what mom puts on the table without consequences. In this case, you don’t mess with her kids’ monitor either.

The background: Initially, mom found out about the whole Dr Pepper promotion the hard way. She discovered her 14-year old daughter’s status update was changed to something a little more than the usual teen chatter. (See the screen grab below of someone who had the same status update. Peckish is British slang for ‘hungry.’) As the rules of the contest state, signing up gives Dr Pepper permission to list one of the three possible levels of embarrassment for your chosen status.









Not quite Charlie Bit Me. After contacting Coke, the fun began when she decided to post her story on Mumsnet, a community forum for moms. (Username: MrsRickman.)* The whole experience though raises other issues when it comes to running social media campaigns.

The agency and brand perspective.

On its surface, this campaign is no different than stuff I’ve pitched or seen other agencies do. Regardless of the brand, the risk you take is that there’s always one person who might be offended. An HPV test campaign I worked on prompted one lady to email the brand and say that we were doing the Devil’s work by asking women to get tested, and that the test only lead to sexual promiscuity. That showed me that you simply can’t plan for every single contingency.

Unfortunately, there’s just no way to predict what will make people upset without making the promotion completely watered down. Blanket disclaimer aside, what’s appropriate and what’s not still has to be a valid concern when you execute the idea.

You design/write for the worst case scenario, i.e., what’s the worst thing the youngest member of your audience might see or read. It may be fine for a beer to target guys 21 and up with a more risqué sense of humor, but does a 14-year old girl with that for a status feel right?

What about the 14-old’s parents.


Before you say well, kids are hipper at a much younger age these days, maybe. But factor in the audience who watches them. We tell kids now to watch out for anyone you don’t know in real life and online, right? Limit your profile to what again? Friends and family. So it’s very possible that mom is seeing that update. Moms may be more hip these days, but unless we’re talking Courtney Love here, I doubt she’s “2 Girls” hip. Which begs the question:

Just how much is a parent expected to do to protect their kids online?

Where does that responsibility end and the brand’s begin? Yes, it’s a parent’s job to shut off the TV, read the explicit lyrics and warnings, or see what their kids say on social nets like Facebook, but brands have a shared responsibility too. I’m far from a prude, but that’s an update encouraging a minor to view some nasty niche/fetish porn.

(If you haven’t seen it, treat it like a total eclipse and keep it that way. You won’t be unwatching that for the rest of your life otherwise. Having said that, watching the reactions people have is safe—and funny.)

So the mom did what you’re supposed to and put filters on the computer to block adult content like that. (Dr Pepper in this case wasn’t showing the clip per se, rather, they just referenced it in the update as text.) In essence though, they got the mention in through the back door, because to enable this promotion, you have to agree to it first. (No matter what category it is, it’s also nearly impossible to verify a user’s age because people lie.) Regardless, overprotection can lead to something else.

Good parent/bad parent.

You always worry about what your kids are doing online, and so of course, filters are the very least you should have in place. Even though there’s a fine line between respecting a child’s privacy and ensuring their safety, safety has to win out until they’re no longer minors.

Too many parents don’t check out their kids’ activity though for fear of appearing uncool, or worse, they’re clueless, failing to notice recent changes in behavior. (How do you let it get to this point and not notice though?) Even if the child brings it on themselves, parents need to be aware.

As much as I really feel for the family now supposedly under police protection, didn’t dad know his 11-year old precious angel was threatening to make brain slushies outtasomebitches? A mother who says “I haven’t seen it,” because “I don’t even go on the computer.” See the daughter go off on enemies proves that maybe kids are growing up faster. That aside, parents aren’t the only ones who need to pay attention.

Feedback directed at brands.

Community forums are generally still very closed circles. Unlike the majority of Mommy Blogger Nation™ which always seems to be on the prowl for the latest freebie, the neighborhood watches in forums protect their own. As I post this, there are now 730+ comments in three days. I didn’t see one person disagree with mom. The natives are not only restless, they’re talking boycotting Coke products, reporting this to the police, and going to the newspapers.

The initial response by parent company Coke was an offer of a hotel stay and theatre tickets. After a few hundred responses in the forum, they responded on Sunday:

“My name is Lauren Branston and I am Director for Corporate Affairs at Coca-Cola Great Britain, with Dr Pepper being one of our brands.

We received an email complaint on Thursday with regards to an offensive and inappropriate status update posted as part of the Dr Pepper Status Takeover competition. We completely agree that this is not acceptable in any form and apologise fully.

As soon as we became aware we immediately removed this line from the promotion. We have taken the decision today to remove the promotion. This has now been done.

We were unaware of the meaning of this line when the promotion was approved, for which we accept full responsibility – there is no excuse. We are reviewing our internal processes as a result to ensure that nothing like this can happen again.

We are in no doubt as to how offended the lady who contacted us is and the seriousness of the situation. We have been in touch with her again today.

If you wish to contact us directly our contact details during working hours are 0800 22 77 11.”

I’d buy that more if only someone from the brand hadn’t come out this past March and raved about the success of the youth approach for Dr Pepper. A brand which wasn’t aware of the meaning is one thing—it’s not their job to keep up on the latest trends—but it is the responsibility of the agency that presented the concept.

Still, to Coke’s credit, they took total blame. I wouldn’t be surprised though if the shop behind this just worked their last job with the brand.

Facebook.

Haven’t forgotten about them. While I’m no legal expert, Dr Pepper seems to have skirted item 4.4 in their terms of service:

“You will not use your personal profile for your own commercial gain (such as selling your status update to an advertiser).”

Nothing was sold per se, but taking part in this contest still meant you could win something of monetary value. Another sore point for the mom was that the promotion also required participants to keep their status public, exacerbating the problem for her. (I’m not a fan of how a lot of brands require you to share your info before you can take part in a given promotion or game. Privacy shouldn’t be a trade-off just so a brand can run a contest.)

That said, many people on Dr Pepper’s Facebook are in favor of the status updates, even if the contest component was taken out. More than a few also complained about the Mumsnet community having this effect. So is this an overreaction by one mom? Maybe. Unless it was your child. What would you say then?

Pushing things with beer brands and guys is one thing, but when it comes to appealing to a wider range of ages that includes teens though, one size fits all promotions can get your ass in trouble.

*I’m only using her username. Also, the ASA she references in her post is Britain’s Advertising Standards Authority.

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Q&A

These questions were posed to MrsRickman over the weekend on 7/17, before Coke responded and pulled the promotion. I received them today, otherwise I would’ve included them in the initial piece. Keep in mind that some of the questions may seem basic, almost naive, but it points out that people view the same things through different prisms. The first thought anyone has when reading a story like this is usually: “Where were the parents?” (See the other example above for the worst-case scenario to that question.) Her responses serve as a reminder that not all 14-year olds are clued into everything online.

MTLB: You say the brand has offered to give you a trip to make up for this, but have they since contacted you?

MrsRickman: They contacted me today (18th), I presume after the mumsnet thread went viral on twitter. I was promised a written letter via the post this week.


M: What has been the impact on your daughter? Was she upset? (I know children these days get exposed to so much more in school and with their friends.)

MR: She was embarrassed as opposed to upset, and then mortified when I explained to her (as I had to) what it was. I can’t comment on what the outcome would have been had she actually managed to find the material online and watch.


M: Do you monitor all your daughter's online activity?

MR: I monitor what I can without appearing obtrusive, and only allowed her a Facebook account with the provision that I was on her friends’ list. Obviously I can’t monitor everything, every conversation on msn or every video she sees on youtube, but I’d say I was vigilant and we have had many many conversations about internet safety.

M: In your opinion, where does the responsibility end for a parent with something like this?

MR: I’m not sure I understand this question. However, it worried me that if she had asked me before d/ling an app to her page I would have probably automatically ok’d it, seeing as it was the Coca Cola corps.

M: I saw that the Dr Pepper requires the consent of the user to sign up and choose from three levels of updates. Did your daughter sign up for this and did she expect anything like that 2 girls update?

MR: To be honest, I suspect she saw that a friend had signed up and followed suit, in a desperate attempt to win the cash. What 14 year old doesn't want £1000? [ $1528 U.S. ] That’s all she’ll have cared about and in order to have a better chance, she's worked out that she would need to go for the 3rd level of ‘embarrassment’. She would never have expected anything like that, a) because she didn’t know what it was - I know she's telling me the truth here, otherwise she wouldn't have googled it and b) I don’t know if you're familiar with 14 year old girls but if she'd thought her status would reference something so grotesque, she would have been mortified and never agreed. 14 year old girls are pretty much all consumed by their image. Lets just say she wouldn’t want her male FB friends from school seeing something like that for fear of the backlash. One of the first things she said to me was ‘oh my god, mum, I hope no one from school saw that’.

M: Having worked in promotions like this, I know the brand will likely say they had no idea and that once a person consents (and is of proper age as dictated in the sign up), that they can’t really control who gets their updates. So, instead of the parents being responsible, do you think enough is being done by brands to prevent access by minors?

MR: I’m a strong advocate for marketing to children being banned altogether. In Scotland Coca Cola recently had to take all their branded drinks machines out of schools, a positive step. I think there's a deep cynicism in marketing to kids and as a parent, how can we be held to account against the power of huge corporations? Of course not enough is being done to prevent access, they don’t want to prevent access. Minors represent such a massive section of the buying public nowadays.

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9 comments:

Anonymous said...

'"2 Girls" hip' - what a disgusting thing to say. How could it be 'hip' to enjoy the degrading scatological exploitation of women? How can you posit that this might be 'an overreaction'? In what moral universe could it possibly be OK to expose a 14 year old to this kind of thing?

Anonymous said...

I think he means "hip" as in "in-the-know" rather than saying it's cool.

Howie said...

This is the reason Bogusky left MDC. He was revolted by advertising to children and thought it unethical. He wrote a very detailed blog post about the fact of before your 12 years old you can't make proper decisions because of the way the brain develops. I know she is 14 but still falls into the realm of kids being naive while brands tend to be predatory (they want sales).

mtlb said...

@Anonymous 1 - You may be overstating things as well as misunderstanding. Anon 2 has it right. Being aware of is not the same as condoning. In fact, you’d have to be aware of this clip in order to protect your kids from it. You only had to look at the other example above where the mom wasn’t aware (or ‘hip’) to her daughter’s activity, let alone the internet in general.

As for positing, much as I rant on topics here from a personal POV, I try never to come out and slam anything without at least giving a cursory voice to the other side of the issue. There are always people who see a story about upset moms and the first thing they think of is: they’re overreacting.

mtlb said...

@Anonymous 1 - Also, please see the amended post where MrsRickman answers a few questions.

Åsk Dabitch said...

Finally, blogger knows who I am (don't ask, we've been arguing all afternoon).

Lets see what a "mom" can add to this discussion. Hmmm.

Well, my daughter is only 4 years old. So it'll be a long time before she has a Facebook account (actually she'll NEVER have one if momma has her way).

I am one of the "evil" friends on teh intarwebs. I've introduced too many people to the joys of Goatse, Lemon Party and Tubgirl, not to mention various gruesome deathshots known on the web before the y2k scare. Somewhere in the juvenile phase this is the sort of thing you do. When you're evil. I've grown out of it, and even though I know what 2 girls 1 cup is, I have never seen it (thank god).

I think I'm rather more bothered with a brand using a teenagers social media page as advertising space in this sneaky fashion that the actual message (mortifying as it is for her). As a joke, I can see that there is funny in it (who on earth is peckish after 2 girls 1 cup) - but when it is used by a brand at large as Dr Pepper and on the status update of a 14-year old girl, we've left soft-drink Kansas too far behind IMHO. YMMV.

Trying to catch the cool of teh intarwebs is a tricky thing. Don't forget we can mold it (example: Old Spice.)

lord gahagafaka said...

hey guys are you new to the internet?

if so welcome! I think all you guys should take a chill pill, and visit allmydads.com and eat 6 hot dogs with a nice can of DR PEPPER cheers!

-the mighty lord gaha <3

Åsk Dabitch said...

lord gahagafaka - thanks for not being able to parse my comment. Not.

"new to the internet". Tsssk. Why back in my day we'd telnet to BBSes. Uphill! Both ways.

Care to try again with adding something useful to to conversation?

Anonymous said...

OK, I misinterpreted your comment about 'hip', and for that I apologise. (It was a cultural slip). But I do worry that it's ultra-liberal 'hey, let's not condemn anything' attitudes that have got us to the point where using this in a promotion could ever have been considered OK. This is why 'Mrs Rickman''s action is so important - at some point, we have to take a stand.