by Allison Wetzel

In January 2012 McDonald’s launched a Twitter campaign using the hashtag #McDStories. A few days prior to the release of #McDStories McDonalds launched the campaign #MeetTheFarmers. Its purpose was to promote McDonalds use of fresh produce and quality meat. The hashtag linked to an enjoyable video to promote the message and the brand. Although the first hashtag was successful and did not create any controversy for McDonalds, it did not receive the media boost expected. In an effort to increase awareness of its new social media campaign McDonald’s launched a second hashtag, #McDStories. Its purpose was to allow customers to share their happy experiences with the brand that has been around for 75 years, McDonalds even paid to have the hashtag promoted on Twitter’s homepage.

McDonald's Tweet

McDonald’s Tweet

Unfortunately McDonalds did not receive the feel good customer commentary they expected. Instead customers used the hashtag to report and share their McDonald’s horror stories.Within one hour of its release customers had tweeted over 1,600 negative tweets about the brand and within two hours of its launch McDonalds pulled the hashtag, resulting in a social fail for the company.  Forbes.com commented that the promoted hashtag turned into a “bashtag”, and allowed customers to share their “#McDHorrorStories. AdWeek calls the campaign a “McFail”, and Advertising Age would eventually list the campaign as one of the biggest advertising fails in 2012.

Customer Tweet

Customer Tweet

The two hour run time and the thousands of negative tweets are evidence to the fail of this campaign. Business Insider reports an emailed comment from McDonald’s social media director Rick Wion stating,“ With all social media campaigns, we include contingency plans should the conversation not go as planned. The ability to change midstream helped this small blip from becoming something larger”. Obviously the campaign was a fail if the social media director admits to it.

Several changes could have helped to create a social win for McDonalds rather than a social fail. First, the platform they chose was not the smartest decision. Although Twitter is a great platform for quick comments and shares, and the birthplace of the hashtag, for this particular campaign McDonalds should have looked into other options. McDonalds has over 17,003,110 Likes to its Facebook page. With this amount of traffic and the control that Facebook offers companies perhaps this would have been a smarter platform to focus on. Customers could have posted heartwarming and fun stories to the companies Facebook page, not only would this have created a social media presence which was McDonalds goal, it is also a more controlled outlet than Twitter. If negative comments and stories were posted they could easily be removed, where as a snowballing hashtag on Twitter is nearly impossible to contain. Still to this day you can search the #McDStories hashtag and users are still using it to tweet content related to McDonalds.

Second, when considering promoting a social media campaign promoting fresh products, McDonalds PR team should have focused on its brand identity more carefully when selecting the hashtag. Customers usually do not identify McDonalds as the fresh and healthy choice, it is constantly criticized for its poor ingredients and where said ingredients actually come from. Therefore, it is understandable that they would want to try and change this image, but the word selection was extremely poor. #McDStories is too ambiguous, McDonalds needed a hashtag that was more direct and content focused. Such as #McDHappyTimes, a play off its popular Happy Meal or #WhyAreYouLovinIt, based on their slogan “Im lovin it”. In this example the subject is clearer and therefore the comments would have more easily followed the subject.

Advertising Age. (2012, December 28). Where Advertisers Went Wrong In 2012. Retrieved from http://adage.com/article/news/biggest-advertiser-disasters-2012/238930/

Dugan, L. (2012, January 24). McDonald’s Twitter Ad Campaign Was A #McFail. Retrieved from http://www.adweek.com/socialtimes/mcdonalds-twitter-ad-campaign-was-a-mcfail/59445

Lubin, G. (2012, January 24). McDonald’s Twitter Campaign Goes Horribly Wrong #McDStories. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/mcdonalds-twitter-campaign-goes-horribly-wrong-mcdstories-2012-1

Huffington Post. (2012, January 23). #McDStories, McDonald’s Twitter Hashtag Promotion, Goes Horribly Wrong. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/23/mcdstories-twitter-hashtag_n_1223678.html

Hill, K. (2012, January 24).#McDStories: When A Hashtag Becomes A Bashtag. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/kashmirhill/2012/01/24/mcdstories-when-a-hashtag-becomes-a-bashtag/