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Coke vs. Gawker: Brand Criticizes Site's Social Media Prank

Gawker Tricked Brand Into Converting Hitler Quotes Into Art

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Coca-Cola on Thursday ramped up its criticism of Gawker, saying the site "made it a mission" to trick the brand into converting Adolf Hitler quotes into cheerful art.

Coke's social media effort encouraged people to reply to negative tweets with the #MakeItHappy hashtag, as part of a broader campaign targeting online hate that included a Super Bowl ad. The brand then transformed negative tweets into cheerful ASCII art. Gawker, which is notorious for its snark, seized on the program by tweeting lines of Hitler's Mein Kampf, which Coke's program automatically turned into various happy images.

"We prepared for the ASCII art execution through rigorous scenario planning, built and tested software and created incredibly extensive filters," Coca-Cola North America spokeswoman Lauren Thompson said Thursday in a statement. "It's unfortunate that Gawker made it a mission to break the system, and the content they used to do it is appalling. All of this reinforces the need for a change online. We hope people continue to spread happiness with us and show no tolerance for haters and hackers."

Gawker reported on its stunt on Wednesday. The site then updated its report on Thursday, stating Coke had suspended the campaign.

When asked by Ad Age if the program had been suspended, Ms. Thompson in an email stated that "yesterday was always scheduled to be the final day for the [Twitter campaign]." The plan, she added, was to begin shifting emphasis to other portions of the campaign. That includes promoting a "smile petition," in which people are asked to take a picture of themselves smiling and post it on Instagram, while tagging it "#MakeItHappy."

Asked for evidence that Coke had always planned to end the Twitter program mid-week, Ms. Thompson pointed to the brand's social media posts, which began promoting the petition effort on Feb. 2.

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