McFail as hashtag invites trolls to share their beef

McDonalds #MeetTheFarmers campaign in 2012 had exactly the right intentions.

Six years on and the fast food chain are still running campaigns to change our perception about the quality of their food.

It shows how ingrained our beliefs are that current campaigns are still tackling the ‘myths’ that their nuggets contain beaks and their burgers were deformed cows.

The #MeetTheFarmers Twitter campaign was designed to showcase their suppliers, and in doing so, highlight the quality of their ingredients. Focusing on beef, potatoes and lettuce, the tweets led to videos of their farmers doing their thing, and generally extolling their virtues.

What started off well, soon turned sour when they changed the hashtag to #McDStories…

This seemed to change the narrative of the campaign, as rather than broadcasting adverts promoting the quality of suppliers, it invited people to share their own stories. With social media being what it is… the loudest and most popular responses were the negative ones.

“Fingernails in my Big Mac” and “Hospitalised with food poisoning” were just two of the many #McDStories tweets shared by anyone with an axe to grind. And worse, the hashtag was being promoted as a sponsored tweet, only encouraging an even bigger response from the Twitterati.

McDonalds were able to react quickly, however, and social media director Rick Wion acted fast. In an email seen by Business Insider, he said:

“Last Thursday, we planned to use two different hashtags during a promoted trend – #meetthefarmers and #mcdstories.

While #meetthefarmers was used for the majority of the day and successful in raising awareness of the Supplier Stories campaign, #mcdstories did not go as planned. We quickly pulled #mcdstories and it was promoted for less than two hours.”

He also commented that “Within an hour of pulling #McDStories the number of conversations about it fell off from a peak of 1600 to a few dozen. It is also important to keep those numbers in perspective. There were 72,788 mentions of McDonald’s overall that day so the traction of #McDStories was a tiny percentage (2%) of that.”

But it would be wrong to suggest this wasn’t bad marketing. Websites and newspapers around the world picked up on this story and the negative PR far outweighs the positive messages it was trying to portray.

What does good look like?

The campaign was research based and aimed to tackle misconceptions about their products, which is a great starting point. But the open nature of the hashtag invited people to take part – and rather than tackle the rumours, it allowed people to add fuel to their fire.

McDonald’s used a hashtag that was open and vague. The original version of #MeetTheFarmers succinctly explained their intentions. The change to #McDstories practically asked people to hijack it.

Consider your hashtags carefully to see if your intention could be misinterpreted, or seen as a cue for jokes at your expense. Ensure your hashtag has focus and clearly relates to your campaign – otherwise it could miss the point and be used for something else entirely.

React quickly, as McDonalds – to their credit – did, by turning off paid promotion and returning the better, original version.


Chris Rogers

I curate stories of #badmarketing so marketing professionals and business owners like you can learn from the mistakes of others - and produce better marketing that’s right first time. Bad Marketing also aims to be essential reading for marketers, academics & students – and anyone interested in the challenges of marketing.