When Viral Content Takes A Negative Turn

Post image for When Viral Content Takes A Negative Turn

by Michael Gray on March 17, 2011 in Viral Marketing

Internet Marketing today revolves around the creation and distribution of viral content. “Must create viral content…must publish viral content…must distribute viral content…must promote viral content…” It seems like a never ending broken record playing in the minds of the marketing world these days. In an ideal world, a company would be in complete control over the viral content circulating the web in reference to their brand. We don’t live in an ideal world – we live in the real world.

… understand your target market, or at the very least have some concept of the potential social media fallout from not understanding your target market …

Information spreads throughout the Internet at a rate that most could never have anticipated thanks to the increasing popularity of social sites like Digg, StumbleUpon and Twitter. While general information spreads quickly, negative information spreads like a 10,000 acre wide wildfire across drought stricken plains doused in lighter fluid.

Free Press For Microsoft

One of the most popular pieces of negative viral content in recent memory came at Microsoft’s expense. With almost 3.5 million views, the “Vista install in 2 minutes” video created by the frustrated YouTube user “opantxm” was wildly popular and certainly a significant blemish on Microsoft’s latest attempt to release an OS that would rival the stability of Apple’s OSX.  This was not the kind of exposure they wanted surrounding the release of what, at the time, was their latest operating system – Windows Vista.

Moms Give Motrin A Migraine

While Microsoft clearly didn’t have a hand in creating the negative viral content above, sometimes companies have no one to blame but themselves when viral content goes awry. Motrin experienced first-hand the public relations nightmare that ensues following a poorly conceived ad campaign that goes viral on a powerful platform like Twitter.

Within hours of the ad’s launch, the Twittersphere was buzzing and moms across the country were outraged by what they perceived to be a condescending and patronizing ad that couldn’t have fallen further short of the mark with their target audience if it had been released on Mars.

It didn’t take long for bloggers to hop on the viral content wave and take their shots at Motrin, too. Mashable got in on it with “Motrin Moms: Social Media Fail Whale”. The controversy was newsworthy enough to garner coverage by Reuters – “Motrin moms and the perils of social media marketing”. Not to be left out, the New York Times chimed in with “Moms and Motrin” and USA Today with “Offended moms get tweet revenge over Motrin ads”. Even Scientific American hopped on the Motrin-craps-on-its-target-market bandwagon with “Motrin moms, a-Twitter over ad, take on Big Pharma–And win”.

Motrin learned an important lesson about Social Media that day – an expensive lesson, no doubt – and a lesson they’ll likely remember for some time. What’s the moral of the story for Motrin and what can other companies learn from their mistake? Understand your target market, or at the very least have some concept of the potential social media fallout from not understanding your target market.

Kryptonite’s Kryptonite? A Ball Point Pen…

While not nearly as far reaching or grand in scale as Microsoft’s and Motrin’s viral debacles, this viral story was probably no less embarrassing or costly to Ingersoll-Rand Company – the makers of the Kryptonite lock. This story began to circulate several years ago, but unlike the story of Vista installation woes and the attack of the Motrin Moms, which both passed relatively quickly, the story of the vulnerability issues of Kryptonite locks lives on.

Among Google’s top 10 results for Kryptonite lock are a Wikipedia entry, which highlights the lock’s vulnerability issues; a Wired article, entitled “Twist a Pen, Open a Lock”; and this 2007 follow up article from What’s Next Blog: “Kryptonite Lock: You’ve (Ever So Slowly) Come a Long Way Baby!” – which isn’t quite as glowing an article as the title implies.

Cyclists that depended on the popular U-Lock to keep their precious, and often pricey, two-wheeled transportation safe & secure were outraged when they learned that what they believed to be a “state-of-the-art” bike lock could be picked in seconds with nothing more than a ball point pen. Ironic that a lock costing between $50 & $75 could be picked with a pen that costs about $0.09.

Negative Information Can Last Forever

The lesson here is that ignoring negative press, even when you’ve fixed the the problem, won’t make the memory of it disappear from the Internet. I assume at this point that the issue with the Kryptonite locks has been resolved, but I don’t know for sure. I’m not going to go past the first page of the search results to find out what they did to solve the problem – and neither is someone shopping for a bike lock. Therein lies the issue for Ingersoll-Rand…this story is still alive and well on the Internet. If I were in the market for a bike lock, this story is the image of Kryptonite locks.

Let’s say I’ve never heard the Kryptonite lock story and that I’m shopping for a bike lock. I have narrowed my choices down to an OnGuard brand lock or a Kryptonite brand lock. My next step would naturally be to do a little research on each brand. 6 out of the 10 results on page one of Google for “kryptonite lock” reference the now infamous vulnerability of their product. Guess what that means? It means a Kryptonite brand bike lock is immediately eliminated from my shopping list. I’m sure it has been a deal-breaker for many a potential customer.

From an online reputation management standpoint, the fact that this story began to circulate nearly 5 years ago and still occupies 60% of the first page results in a keyword search for their brand is absolutely inexcusable. From a business standpoint, it’s simply asinine. Their brand continues to be tarnished – and likely tens of thousands of dollars in sales lost annually – as a result of this negative viral content continuing to appear prominently in the search results.

If those in charge of the marketing and PR departments at Kryptonite knew anything about social media or online reputation management, any reference to this embarrassing story would be buried under mounds of new, positive information published since 2004 when this story first began to circulate.

In order to avoid this kind of online reputation management disaster and mitigate the damage from negative viral content a company must create fresh and flattering content that will replace any negative and dated information in the search results. Actively monitoring a brand’s online reputation using tools like Google Alerts is also essential. Negative information will likely live on forever…the only question is will it show up on page 1 or page 21?

About the Author

Michael Gray

Michael Gray, known widely in the online marketing community as Graywolf, is New York based SEO Consultant and the president of Atlas Web Service. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook or at any of the Pubcon Masters Training Programs. Read more posts from .


Stay Updated


1 Michael Gray March 29, 2011 at 4:06 pm

This is a test comment for styling

2 admin March 29, 2011 at 4:07 pm

testing some more

3 Michael Gray March 29, 2011 at 4:09 pm

i’m replying third time to orig author

4 admin March 29, 2011 at 4:09 pm


5 Michael Gray March 29, 2011 at 4:11 pm

from loompa land

6 admin March 29, 2011 at 4:07 pm

another main comment

7 Michael Gray March 29, 2011 at 4:08 pm

i’m replying to the admin comment

8 admin March 29, 2011 at 4:08 pm

I’m replying again!

9 Michael Gray March 29, 2011 at 4:08 pm

I’m replying yet again

10 admin March 29, 2011 at 4:09 pm


Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post: