Waitrose and Clegg: mistakes on autopilot or flame marketing masterpieces?

Nick Clegg's YouTube apology: a mistake on autopilot or a flame marketing masterpiece? Waitrose and Clegg: mistakes on autopilot or flame marketing masterpieces? I just can’t decide…

I am finding myself a social media schizophrenic of late. Not in the usual way that is pretty normal with social networks; my real personality being on Facebook, business meeting personality on LinkedIn, then office personality on Twitter.

No a different kind of schizophrenia. I fear I’m a fan and a critic of all the wrong things for all the wrong reasons.

Let me explain. Every time I see a promotional campaign, I pick it to pieces in my head, instantly trash it, thinking about the infinite ways the brand and agency could have made it better.

Then every time I see a social media car crash, and there were two notable ones just in the last week, I convince myself that they were a stroke of genius and that they were designed to fail, go viral, and thus become super-successful.

The car crashes I’m referring to are Nick Clegg’s YouTube apology, and Waitrose’s Twitter hashtag poll #WaitroseReasons.

In case you missed them, here’s a refresher.

Nick Clegg decided it was time to apologise for some political gaff or other. So he did so through the medium of YouTube. Apart from the fact that the apology was pretty late and came across a touch insincere, it also didn’t suit YouTube one little bit in terms of style, delivery or content. Cue internet backlash.

Then Waitrose. The supermarket, in one of it’s early forays into the land of Twitter, ran a hashtag competition asking people to say why they shop there. Cue mockery and japes.

Neither campaign had the desired outcome, as you by now will know. Or did they?

When The Poke remixed Clegg’s speech into a catchy tune, the response from the deputy PM’s office was ‘great!’ so long as proceeds from any royalties go to charity. Fair play. Nice turnaround.

As for Waitrose? What the Daily Mail called a ‘torrent of abuse’ flowed around Twitter using the #WaitroseReasons hashtag, my favourites being ‘I shop at Waitrose because Clarissa’s pony will not eat ASDA value straw’ and ‘..because Tesco doesn’t stock Unicorn food’.

But didn’t the creative minds behind both these campaigns not see both reactions coming? Were these not just two examples of flame marketing? You lay a brand trap online knowing that the backlash will come and will push your story to go viral and reinforce your brand messages? That’s smart.

So while I find my schizophrenia starts to wear off, I remember that the lowest common denominator normally applies in these circumstances. No doubt these were probably just two small things that got big for a short time. The brands just rode with it, what else could they do other than what they did? Nothing more than that really.

Well if social media schizophrenia is an illness, maybe I’m also an incurable hypochondriac, because I’ve quite enjoyed these last few days.

Drew Benvie, CEO UK of Hotwire