When branded content goes wrong

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1 Foster’s lager, with the help of agency Naked Communications, has recently identified comedy as its perfect partner. However, the project had an early setback with the launch of a public vote to name the best act in the 30-year history of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Incensed at the “Comedy God” poll, comedian Stewart Lee wrote an open letter complaining that it was an unfair exercise, since voters would not have seen most acts and career performers were competing with individual performances. For all anyone knew, he argued, the obscure Japanese troupe Frank Chickens was the best act the Fringe had seen. Lee unintentionally sparked a viral response, culminating in the 1980s performance artists winning ahead of dozens of household names.

2 Coca-Cola severed ties with its digital agency Lean Mean Fighting Machine, following a badly judged Facebook campaign, which challenged users to let it post embarrassing status updates on their page for a chance to win £1,000.

The brand was criticised after posting a message on a teenager’s Facebook profile that made reference to a porn film. The mother of the girl complained via parent community site Mumsnet. Following the debacle, the fizzy drinks brand admitted that it had signed off the status updates but at the time didn’t make the link between the status update and the pornographic reference.

3 Last October, PepsiCo’s American energy drink brand Amp created a smartphone app aimed at its young male target demographic. Using the title “Amp Up Before You Score”, it contained advice to men on seducing women, which it divided into 24 categories such as “Cougar”, “Rebound Girl” and “Twins”. It also offered the facility to share details of conquests with friends.

Bloggers blasted the app as misogynistic, which drew a hasty apology from the brand’s Twitter feed. The creation of its own pepsifail hashtag did not prevent a backlash that ended with the withdrawal of the app less than a month after it went on the market.

4 In 2007, beer brand Budweiser set up Bud.tv, an online television channel available in the US featuring original programming that included drama, comedy and sport. The venture attracted big-name talent from across the American TV networks, as well as deals with Hollywood A-listers. 

Despite launching off the back of a Super Bowl half-time ad, the channel attracted only 253,000 unique visitors in its first month, and lost over 100,000 in the following month. The decline continued, far undershooting the target of at least 2 million a month. A complex age-verification system and an inability to produce the volume of content required with the resources available were blamed. Bud.tv was switched off in February 2009.



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