With each new holiday or anniversary comes another chance for a brand to embarrass itself.
SpaghettiOs did just that on the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, for instance, when it tweeted its cartoon mascot holding an American flag. Just because a brand could have its heart in the right place does not mean that a silly attempt at real-time marketing will not cause an angry backlash or mocking on a viral level.
So, of course, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day presented a perfect opportunity for cringe-worthy marketing messages.
Like this one from PETA, using a day of remembrance for the struggles and triumphs of African-Americans to plug its cause:
It is notable that even though tweets like the one from PETA angered many people on Twitter, PETA and other brands did not have knee-jerk reactions to the response. Instead of deleting tweets and issuing an apology, brands like ZzzQuil chose to stick to their guns and explain to individual critics that they meant no offence:
Today is the day for dreaming. Happy MLK Day.
— ZzzQuil (@ZzzQuil) January 20, 2014
Companies like PopChips and Krazy Glue saw the perfect opportunity for a pun:
Many were respectful, but just looked silly due to a weird brand association:
Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’ – Martin Luther King, Jr.
— Chicken of the Sea (@COSMermaid) January 20, 2014
Big brands that normally love timely tweets avoided controversy by not tweeting at all, like Oreo and Burger King.
Taking the opposite approach, PornHub decided to fearlessly make some industry-appropriate jokes. The brand got equal attention from fans who found its tweets funny and critics who found them distasteful:
Happy MLK. In honour of his death, make sure to only use the Ebony category today.
— Pornhub Katie (@Pornhub) January 20, 2014
Even though the porn tweets survived MLK Day, there was a notable Twitter fail in the traditional sense, and it came from the Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command at the start of the long weekend. MARSOC quickly deleted the tweet and apologized for the “lone gunman” reference that brought to mind King’s assassin:
And here’s the apology:
MLK Day proved that Twitter users can expect more questionable marketing tweets on the next holiday or day of remembrance. Though it also showed that more corporate social media are becoming aware of the dangers that come with real-time branding. Some are choosing to stand their ground, and others are choosing to just keep quiet.
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