Last week Coca-Cola launched their new #MakeItHappy Twitter campaign. This gave anyone in the Twittersphere the unique opportunity to have a hateful comment transformed into a happy picture. When you replied to a negative tweet by using the hashtag, an encoding system called ASCII used an automatic algorithm to rearrange the words in hateful comments into happy images of monkeys, bananas, mice, and other such unassuming niceties.
It probably seemed like a sweet idea at the time. But Coca Cola has had a bitter reminder that the internet is an unpredictable and unruly place. It’s not only populated by the trolls it was trying to thwart but by creative mavericks who hold no truck with a cynical ploy to sell more drink.
Gawker noticed one image generated using the ‘Fourteen Words’ slogan of White Nationalism and immediately saw an opportunity to turn the campaign on its head. By building a script to intercept #MakeItHappy with their own twitter bot (@MeinCoke), Gawker prompted Coca-Cola to share cutesy cartoons made up of passages from Hitler’s Mein Kampf.
Consequently, this cutesy idea to ‘encourage positivity’ has backfired badly, resulting in a major campaign – launched at the Superbowl no less – being aborted just one day later.
In their statement to AdWeek Coca-Cola explain “The #MakeItHappy message is simple: the internet is what we make it, and we hoped to inspire people to make it a more positive place. It’s unfortunate that Gawker is trying to turn this campaign into something it isn’t”. In theory, a nice idea. In reality, not so much. I wonder if the Coca-Cola brains behind the idea have ever been trolled on the internet – I’d imagine if they had they’d know that creating strange little images isn’t going to make a great deal of difference.
It’s not a new concept for a brand to utilize a ‘cause’ to send a message that they are dedicated to something aside from selling their product; but this particular campaign just screams self-promotion with no real effects. It’s not sending any hard-hitting message about the prevalence of bullying online or raising awareness of the effects of such behaviour. Presumably they’re not going to try and make the online world “a more positive place” unless doing so gets them publicity by encouraging high levels of social media engagement.
CocaCola or Gawker? In my opinion, neither. The marketing campaign wasn’t really doing anything to combat hate, and Gawker was only as bad as the negative trolls that Coke intended to challenge.
The most interesting aspect of this takedown, in my opinion, was reading the reactions and comments from the members of the public reading about it online. These are the people who have trolled, who have been trolled, or in most cases just find it hilarious that Coca-Cola thought their concept was going to have any resounding effect in the first place:
“Talk about the banality of evil. I hate to echo hacky ’80s stand-ups, but which marketing genius came up with this? Even if Gawker had never entered the picture, wasn’t the fundamental idea that they were going to propagate hateful messages, but it would be okay and “positive” because they would turn them into something cute? Have these people ever met the Internet?”