1.) An out of work actor cast as the ultimate fan of T.G.I. Friday’s, who
2.) claims to have made a bet with Friday’s: If he can score 500,000 fans to his Facebook page by Sept. 30, Friday’s will give away a free burger to all who have fanned him.
Initial coverage, particularly from advertising industry news sources, was pretty positive. This was no surprise, since sign ups started strong and it took only 11 days for the Facebook page to exceed the 500,000 goal. High fives and fist bombs all around, let the Dom Pérignon flow baby! Only, before anyone’s liver had time to sustain significant damage, a few “issues” had emerged:
• Many fans who signed up believed “Woody” was a real person and that they were helping him out while taking part in a real challenge. They felt stupid and betrayed when they found out it was a manufactured ad campaign. This made them angry. Fortunately, Facebook is an excellent place to express one’s feelings.
• Everyone else already knew it was fake and was playing along for the free mammal tissue patty. Most of these people had no real attachment to T.G.I. Friday’s or the other bribe takers on the page and were excited to mock and torment the people complaining about being duped. At this point the conversations went from, “cool, a free burger” to dark and abusive.
• Then it got better. After the 500,000th person signed up the realization that anyone beyond this point wouldn’t get jack began to sink in. This over 500,000 group that were no longer eligible for the coupon quickly swelled to more than a 100,000 disappointed and angry people. Many of them were very motivated to join the conversations in progress. Their influence redirected the bile and venom between fans to everyone’s new favorite antagonists; Woody and T.G.I. Fridays. Impressive, Publicis had managed to create a vast digital mob of T.G.I. Friday’s haters in less than two weeks.
Could it get even better? You betcha. The offer might have been over, but the campaign still had two weeks to run, and the big guns had been saved for last. 15- and 30-second national TV spots were scheduled to run every day for another 14 days. Now, according to articles written at the time, Publicis and T.G.I. Fridays (and likely much legal counsel on both sides) engaged in “passionate” team huddles to figure out what to do. At 6PM on Tuesday September 16th, after days of excoriating brand hate flowing conspicuously on the Facebook pages, Woody announced that burgers would now be free for the first one million sign ups. Huzza, the day was saved; everyone again loved Woody and T.G.I. Friday’s. Well, not quite. People began almost immediately to demand their coupons, and the negative tone regarding the overall experience continued unabated until September 30th, when freebie burger coupon day finally arrived. And that’s when things went totally off the rails. Thousands said they never got the link to the coupon, others said that the application that they had to download and install to print the coupon didn’t work, still others were pissed to discover that the coupon was only valid for four days and they wouldn’t have a chance to use it. Everyone who voiced their complaints was derided and taunted by those who claimed to have successfully gotten their coupon and free burger. The Facebook conversations became so confrontational and filthy (pedophilia and bestiality were common themes) that Publicis had to block all “fans” from posting to the Wall. Nothing says, “successfully executed social marketing campaign” like the application of the Myanmar Junta technique of trying to keep everyone from communicating. Facebook fans are resourceful though, even after the Wall was shut down the love kept flowing. Although Fans can no longer post they can start discussions and comment on anything Woody posts, and dear reader, the vast majority of it ain’t good. Discussion topics include, “Where the hell is my burger?” and “Where to file a BBB complaint” while comments to Woody’s posts are generally off topic, angry, or pornographic.
So what’s the final score? T.G.I. Friday’s paid millions of dollars (hundreds of thousands of free burgers, agency fees, and media costs) for countless bad brand experiences and a handful of Woody Facebook pages drifting on the digital ocean with no apparent direction. The only faint stirrings of life are the comments peppered with smoldering anger and derision whenever the obvious agency crafted ad messages are posted from “Woody.” Mercifully, even these are becoming more and more infrequent. Which brings us to the moral of the story, otherwise known in the Official Book of Social Media Marketing Rules as, #2 and #3.
Social Marketing Rule #2: Only real people, not brand personas, can build real relationships.
Social Marketing Rule #3: Money can’t buy you love.
Update March 9, 2010: TGI Fridays vanishes Woody and his 900,000+ Facebook “fans” but 12,000 fan-natics live on, and they want blood.
It appears that Woody has joined Jimmy Hoffa in a location known only to “Tony Jack” Giacalone, the TGI Fridays C-suite, and an anointed few at the Publicis NYC office. What may have come as a surprise to Woody’s creators is that unlike mass media, “disappearing” your creation isn’t so easy in social media. When a traditional advertising campaign isn’t doing so well (or in this case, is hated and despised) you simply stop the media spend and it quietly fades away. Not so in the magical new world of social media. The Woody campaign has shown that if you really tick off enough people you can pull the plug, delete all your Facebook pages, and vanish the almost one million “fans,” but what you started may still not go gentle into the good night. In fact, the fan-natics might create their own Facebook pages dedicated to ongoing demands for the undelivered free burgers, threats of lawsuits, restaurant boycotts, and giving the brand the digital equivalent of an old fashion tarring and feathering. Which segues nicely to…
Social Media Marketing Rule #4: The passive audience has been replaced with active participants, treat them with respect.