When will the likes of Walkers learn that people do not love brands?

Mark Borkowski is founder and head of Borkowski PR. You can find him on Twitter @MarkBorkowski

The hijacking of Walkers’ Champions League promo – which asked fans to tweet selfies to be included alongside Gary Lineker – begs the question: how did no one see that coming?

As ever in new media land, the idea would have gone through countless planning sessions and stress tests. Each time bearded Dalstonian (apologies) creatives no doubt slapped themselves on the back. What a great idea to give folk the opportunity to been seen by millions next to crisp-chomping icon Gary Lineker. Everyone loves Gary – apart from all those Twitter trolls. So let’s launch it via Twitter. What could possibly…

Sadly, the public failed to grasp the genius at work here. Instead they let down themselves, Gary and the whole of ad land by taking the piss. What was meant to be a celebration of brand love turned into a who’s who of perversion and paedophilia. The cheek.

Getting to the crux of the stunt’s inherent wrongness isn’t difficult. Time and again we’ve seen the assumption that the public – so grateful to be invited in – will play by the rules backfire spectacularly (Boaty McBoatface, anyone?). Yet even though this fatal flaw is plain to see, you can bet your Lineker undies that they’ll never learn and it’ll happen again.

The minds behind stunts such as #WalkersWave are, I’m sure, thoughtful and creative. But hardwired into many agencies is a major misunderstanding of their audience. People do not love brands. They might like their products and everyone loves a freebie. But given half the chance people will always delight in causing mischief at the expense of a cynical marketing gesture.

Engagement based on responding to a corporate message is destined to fail. By driving their campaign through a sewer of humanity like Twitter, Walkers was effectively handing over the keys to career vandals. This wasn’t so much a schoolboy error as kindergarten car crash.

This hubris extends beyond the content wizards of Shoreditch. Too many corporates fail to grasp what exactly it means to live in a digital age. Once something is out there in the wilds of the internet you have forfeited control. Ignoring it is not an option. Being a subsidiary of PepsiCo, you would have thought Walkers would be wise to the power of social media to take no prisoners, as witnessed recently by the relentless beating received by the Kendall Jenner-fronted Pepsi ad.

Ad promos like WalkersWave assume an interest rather than create it. And for that reason, they will fail every time. If there are any lessons to be learned it is that brands should spend more time listening to what their customers actually want. A selfie with a Lineker avatar it ain’t.

Mark Borkowski is the founder of Borkowski.do. He tweets @MarkBorkowski

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