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What can brands learn from the #WalkersWave and Burger King “OK Google” ad fails?

15th Aug 2017
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You can’t go very far within the world of marketing and brands without hearing the latest buzzword – personalisation. Everything is about personalisation, and with advances in technology and the use of data, marketing is becoming increasingly personalised and social. Many brands are already making the most of this shift by creating innovative and engaging campaigns which allow consumers to interact with the content.

However, with these new levels of engagement comes a certain element of risk. Two recent campaigns by Burger King and Walkers are perfect examples of how campaigns which involve an element of consumer interaction run the risk of being hijacked by the ever-creative public.

Don’t play with fire

For many people, Burger King’s “OK Google” seemed to be a massive advertising fail. Not only did Google actively stop its Home devices responding to the “OK Google” command in the Burger King’s ad, but a number of computer-savvy consumers took to Wikipedia and creatively edited the page.

However, if we really think about it, do we seriously think a brand as big as Burger King didn’t think that this was going to happen? Of course they did! The fact that it had another cut of the ad without the “OK Google” prompt in is proof enough. So, a campaign that may appear to be a ‘fail’ on the surface is in actual fact a very calculated risk and, in my opinion, one that definitely paid off.

If you look past the annoying TV ad and explore other metrics, you can really see how clever this campaign was. According to the Washington Post,  “social conversation” around Burger King was up 300% after the campaign. On top of this, the campaign won a Cannes Lions – not bad for a marketing  ‘fail’.

In this way, the “OK Google” campaign cleverly entered our homes and our conversations. However, a word of warning is needed here: if your brand doesn’t have the muscle to deal with the potential fallout like Burger King did, don’t play with fire.

Calculate the risk

Unfortunately, for Walkers, its #WalkersWave campaign was most certainly not a calculated risk. The seemly innocent campaign, which involved consumers uploading an image of themselves to feature with Gary Lineker, was mercilessly hijacked by the public.


The biggest issue here was the naivety of the brand – rather than any nasty intent – and it’s safe to assume that most people understood that. So, whilst we can all agree this was definitely a marketing ‘fail’, the overall damage to Walker’s brand health has been minimal.

So that is one more thing to bear in mind: if there’s even the smallest possibility that your audience has any hostility towards your brand, campaigns based on personalisation should probably be avoided.

Don’t rush into it

To avoid landing your brand in the same position as Walkers, it is important to consider the context and value-add to your audience, as well as testing the campaign before you hand it over to the consumer.

A good example of a well thought out value-added personalisation campaign was the hugely successful Coca-Cola ‘share a Coke’ campaign, which sold bottles of Coke with people’s names on them. This personalisation saw consumers rushing to the shops to find a bottle with their name on it and, as a result, sales rocketed with over 150 million bottles sold. On social media, there were 998 million impressions on Twitter and 235,000 tweets from fans using the #ShareaCoke hashtag.


Keep a very close eye throughout

One last bit of advice: if you have calculated the risk and gone for the personalised approach, make sure you’re keeping a close eye on what is going on, especially if you are doing a soft launch. As a brand, it is essential to agree at what point you will pull a campaign. After all, it’s important to make sure that your campaign isn’t trending for the wrong reasons.

Ultimately, who cares?

Even if the campaign is the most creative and visual stunning project you have ever worked on, are consumers actually gaining anything from it? In the case of #WalkersWave, there was really nothing to gain – which to a certain extent encouraged the backlash. In order to avoid any unnecessary fall out, brands need to offer the audience something they value.

For example, when Manifesto used personalised video as part of the Parkinson’s UK #WeWontWait campaign for Parkinson’s Awareness Week, we made sure the act of participation was a meaningful experience for the target audience. For people whose lives have been touched by the degenerative neurological condition, being able to quickly create a short video that explains what a cure would mean for them was a positive and potentially powerful means of self-expression. As a result, it generated lots of social media discussion and led to over 500,000 engagements.

So, when it comes to deciding whether to use personalisation, it’s about weighing up the risks, rather than avoiding them altogether.

Burger King’s campaign was so inoffensive compared to recent mistakes made by Pepsi and United Airlines, the outrage quickly died down and instead of a burning brand, it left in its place a campaign that attracted millions of pounds of earned media and the admiration of the advertising industry.

Phil Aiston is client strategist at Manifesto, an award-winning agency of creatives and technologists.

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