Hashtag Heaven and Hell

It’s been a busy week PR-wise in the UK, but then February always is, as the January Blues recede and we all find our mojo again. Not to mention the commercial heaven of Valentine’s Day approaching.

However it wasn’t any heart-shaped campaigns that caught my eye particularly this week, but more what the charities are doing that I’m impressed with.

As we said goodbye to Summer 2014 and the Ice Bucket Challenge, we lamented how charities were both reaping the rewards and risking the spoils of hashtag viral trends. People wondered where it would end. Some felt it should, and would, end sooner rather than later. Brands, too, where suffering from hashtag-hijacking and having to find new ways to engage their publics online as it seemed the hashtag Q&As were unwillingly retiring to the “Shady Pines” Social Media Retirement Home.

But hashtags are back with a bang in 2015!


Pancreatic Cancer UK, it could be argued, have both an easy and difficult job in terms of awareness raising. Why? Well because on the one hand Cancer is notoriously poignant for most of the population and is considered among the Third Sector to be “the easiest sell” as an issue. However, once you break the disease down into specifics, you run into the lesser-known types of Cancer and this is where organisations like Pancreatic Cancer UK would normally struggle.

Inspired by a character that actor Roger Lloyd Pack famously played in Only Fools and Horses, Tom Kenning (a supporter of the charity) created “Call Everyone Dave Day” as tribute when Roger died of the disease in January 2014. It achieved over 45,000 Facebook Likes in one day in its first year – pretty impressive!

Why It Works

Oh my, it’s so achingly simple, it’s practically genius! The history behind the humour of the over-use of the name Dave in the UK is long and well-known, so much so that there is a TV channel named after it. Said TV channel also cleverly supported the initiative. Dave remains a popular name in this part of the world and so, on Twitter, almost everyone of that namesake was getting involved in spreading the word and donating too. Celebrities got involved of course, but this campaign gave so many more people the opportunity to join in with Councils renaming themselves and even a rugby team renaming their entire squad for the day!


Despite the fact that I don’t follow any of the charities in this sector, nor any of the celebrities endorsing this campaign, it is still appearing thick and fast in my Twitter timeline.

Supported by 3 Monkeys Communications as part of Age UK’s “No one should have no one” integrated marketing campaign, people were invited to share a selfie of themselves and a special older person across Twitter and Instagram, as well texting to donate.

Why It Works

A lot of companies and organisations have tried to use the pscyhology behind selfies in a bid to find creative and innovative takes on the trend but this one works because it utilises what so many people already do; post pictures of themselves with beloved grandparents. The mass of celebrity engagement, many of which is now unpaid and unsolicited, is both testament to that and a huge boost for the charity, bringing the issue of older people to a younger generation - an audience whom this sector desperately needs to care more about their work. But like the cancer campaign, this opens the engagement opportunities out to the public too.


Despite the success of the two campaigns above, the #SmearForSmear “messy lipstick selfie” campaign by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust hasn’t quite found the same traction despite support from hugely popular personalities like Cara Delevingne. This is disappointing as it’s such an important issue for young women but my guess is that it’s just not as fun or obvious or easy to do and the shareability factor is much lower than the humour and emotion that are embedded in the above viral hashtag examples.


Despite what Science Fiction promised us, robots can’t quite do our dirty work for us just yet, as Coca-Cola were cruelly reminded this week when yet another automated algorithm campaign went horribly wrong. For a couple of hours last Tuesday morning the brand’s Twitter feed was quoting large chunks of Adolf Hitler’s book Mein Kamf.

I know, nightmare.

The sponsored Twitter ad campaign was initially introduced during the Super Bowl, encouraging people to respond to negative tweets with the hashtag and a positive image would be produced to counteract the negativity. It looked like it should work on the surface; major sporting event, people complaining, people complaining about people complaining, give them a positive call-to-action, brand-bingo-jackpot!

Not so.

In fairness to Coca-Cola, the campaign may have worked had it not been for a counter-campaign by media company Gawker, which tricked it purposely into tweeting the offensive text. Their editorial labs director created a Twitter bot (@MeinCoke) and set it up to tweet lines from Hitler’s book, linking to them with the hashtag, thus triggering Coca-Cola’s Twitter bot to turn them into cute pictures.

Why It Didn’t Work

By Wednesday morning the campaign had been pulled. The problem lies in the fact that you can’t account for technology lacking human judgement and you absolutely can account for human tricksters and trolls, especially on the internet when you give them a specific meeting place to publicly embarrass you (i.e. a hashtag).

What did work was Coca-Cola’s response which very cleverly used the incident to reinforce their original message with a statement that concluded:

“Building a bot that attempts to spread hate through #MakeItHappy is a perfect example of the pervasive online negativity Coca-Cola wanted to address with this campaign.”

So let this be a lesson to us all - if we must #hashtag let’s do so with care!