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Public polls: Guaranteed digital PR campaign failure?

digital PR campaign failure

digital PR campaign failure

Everyone likes to voice their opinion, right? The concept lies at the very heart of so much in our lives, from democracy to market research. But when the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) hands naming rights to a new jail over to the people we have to wonder if public polls don’t guarantee digital PR campaign failure for unpopular brands.

In principle it sounds like a good, fun idea. But history has shown us that ill-conceived campaigns of this kind can often go awry. The naming of that marine research vessel— now confirmed as RRS David Attenborough— is a case in point. The public were asked to christen it, and Boaty McBoatface came out as the winner.

Here in Manchester, the city council has drafted in a new gritter to prepare for the incoming winter. Citizens have been asked to name it, and you can guess what’s been happening. Jonathan Owen, writing for PR Week, clearly has similar concerns about the potential of Jaily McJailface in terms of the MoJ’s idea. Only it could go even worse.

Does anyone remember the #askseaworld digital PR campaign failure?

Let’s roll the clock back. Sea World launched a social media campaign with the hashtag #askseaworld. The idea was that members of the public could ask the brand anything via Twitter. The company wanted to ‘become a trend’, but things went horribly awry as people vented rage at the firm’s notorious treatment of animals.

Now consider today’s example— the MoJ. In terms of government departments these guys are responsible for bringing people to court, fining and incarcerating them. Hardly the country’s most popular team, with this in mind Jaily McJailface might be the least of their worries.

No digital PR campaign is better than a poorly judged digital PR campaign

Avoiding a digital PR campaign failure from this kind of public poll often comes down to the basics. Such as judging who your audience is, and how much influence those you want to reach would have on the results compared to those that might want to hijack the campaign.

For the MoJ, we can hazard a guess its audience is relatively small compared with the overall UK population. And the majority of the UK population will have little-to-no loyalty towards the ‘brand’, meaning they will have little to no qualms about hijacking the campaign.

But does that really matter?

No brand or organisation wants to #becomeanotherseaworld. However, digital PR campaign failure and success isn’t always black and white.

Consider the use of #comicsans in political campaigns. The idea is simple— create terrible memes using a terrible font so people will share the content, even if they just want to mock the content. The more shares the greater the brand’s visibility thanks to social media algorithms. What this means is that even Jaily McJailface might actually do what the MoJ wants by increasing social media reach through engagement intended to disrupt the campaign.


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