By Madison Chelminski
You may remember when the documentary Blackfish was released back in 2013. It highlighted the lives of killer whales living in Sea World and the negative effects of their captivity, including attacks on humans, one being a trainer that was killed back in 2010. After the film was released to the public, Sea World’s image was tarnished. Although the park claimed that the documentary was “shamefully dishonest, deliberately misleading, and scientifically inaccurate”, ticket sales plunged. In order to regain the public’s trust and increase sales once again, they created a multi-million dollar social media campaign in which they asked people on Twitter to ask any questions they had, using the hashtag #AskSeaWorld. Unfortunately, Sea World received thousands of angry and critical questions that were left unanswered by the corporation. Some of the questions even came from well-known organizations, such as PETA, tweeting “If mother-calf bond is ‘valued’ at your parks, why have you separated 19 calves from their mothers?”. Another tweet from the Blue Planet Society asked “The last UK dolphinarium closed in 1993. Why are you persisting with a cruel & archaic business model that is clearly failing?”. Things got a little messy when Sea World responded on Twitter by calling these people “trolls” and “bots”. With the sassy tweets from the park, Twitter users tolerance for the attempted campaign dwindled quick.
PETA chimes in on the #AskSeaWorld campaign.
In the parks defense, their hashtag was at the top of the trending list on Twitter. Although, the cliche saying “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” didn’t quite work in the favor of Sea World. In march of 2015, after the campaign was launched, CNN Money reported that their stock had been down nearly 40% in the past year, and about 50% below their all-time high. New York Post also highlighted on their net income plunging 85% and revenue 3%. Even Sea World’s previous killer whale trainer, John Hargove, turned against the park publicly on The Daily Show with John Stewart. After the campaign costing them millions, it’s safe to say it was a fail in both Sea Worlds pocket and reputation.
Using audience content as part of a campaign can be risky. A good example of this is the Bill Cosby Meme incident back in 2014. Bill Cosby tweeted out to his followers a photo of him asking them to create funny memes with it. It quickly backfired when people started to implement his previous rape allegations into the memes, creating a mockery of himself. Sea World could have possibly done some research before leaving their image in the hands of the already angry public. Since the hashtag #AskSeaWorld was trending, it made all the negative tweets even more accessible and exposed to users of Twitter. They probably could have benefited better from shifting away from the problem, rather than micro focusing on it. Creating their own user generated content would have given them control of the situation, in which they definitely lacked in this campaign. Perhaps they will give it another shot this year.
Aurthur, Kate. (2014, November 10). The Bill Cosby Meme #CosbyMeme Hashtag Backfired Immediately. Retrieved from http://www.buzzfeed.com/kateaurthur/the-bill-cosby-cosbymeme-hashtag-backfired-immediately#.qgYaVJGRlL
Coffee, Patrick. ( 2015, March 27). #AskSeaWorld Reputation Campaign Fails Miserably. Retrieved from http://www.adweek.com/prnewser/askseaworld-reputation-campaign-fails-miserably/111686
Lobosco, Katie. (2015, March 27). ‘Ask SeaWorld’ Marketing Campaign Backfires. Retrieved from http://money.cnn.com/2015/03/27/news/companies/ask-seaworld-twitter/
Post Staff Report. (2015, August 6). ‘Ask Seaworld’ Campaign Fails to stop attendance from sinking. Retrieved from http://nypost.com/2015/08/06/new-ad-campaign-fails-to-stop-seaworlds-sinking-attendance/
Sola, Katie. (2015, March 27). #AskSeaWorld Twitter Campaign Pretty Much Goes How You’d Expect. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/03/27/seaworld-twitter-fail_n_6950902.html