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3 High-Risk Social Campaigns That Worked

There’s a fine line between offensive/off-putting and humorous/eye-catching.

3 High-Risk Social Campaigns That Worked

Your brand doesn’t always have to play it safe, but it does have to entertain without offending your audience.

Let’s take a look at three fast-food brands, Taco Bell, KFC, and Burger King, who lead the way when it comes to social campaigns that take big risks and reap big rewards.

Taco Bell

Sometimes the riskiest thing you can do on social media…is get off it entirely.

That’s what Taco Bell did to draw attention to its new app which supported mobile ordering.

On Instagram, Taco Bell “quilted” together multiple posts which fit together to say “The New Way to Taco Bell Isn’t On Instagram — It’s #OnlyInTheApp.

taco bell app

Taco Bell deleted all posts on Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook, except those which referrred to their app.

Each of their social profiles featured the hashtag #OnlyInTheApp and a link to download the app.

This is a great example of a brand driving mobile downloads using holistic, cross-channel social strategy. Taco Bell generated buzz with its pre-existing social audience, while also attracting significant media attention to produce new social followers (and downloaders of their app).

Try this: In your next campaign, manifest a strategy which is unapologetically single-minded. For instance, if you want to drive your social audience towards a new microsite, you can do something as minor yet insistent, like including a link to the microsite in every piece of social content you produce and placing it in all your social profiles.

Or, you can do something as epic as dedicating an entire week to tweeting out nothing but Twitter cards which link back to your site and form a puzzle that unlock a discount/giveaway code when deciphered.


KFC took the risk of confusing customers and disrespecting the Colonel Sanders tradition with its latest campaign, which features video content of Norm MacDonald as Colonel Sanders on both YouTube and Facebook, claiming that the Colonel Sanders we’d been seeing in the previous past few months was an impostor.

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Some might have found this campaign confusing, but the reaction by and large has been laughs and views (336K on the video above alone).

KFC has also invigorated the campaign by jumping in on conversations which mention Colonel Sanders and the campaign itself.

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By playing with the idea of what’s “real” and what’s not, and continuing to unravel an ongoing guessing game, KFC is keeping its social audience slightly befuddled and very engaged.

Try this: Play with your brand’s identity. Have a mascot, or a slogan which people identify your brand with heavily? Turn it upside down. Pretend it’s Opposite Day. If your brand logo is a tiger, debut a “new brand logo” on social featuring your tiger without stripes around a big event or acquisition and see what kind of reaction you get.

Burger King

As reported by Bloomberg Businessweek, Burger King has had to get incredibly creative to compete with its major opposition, McDonalds, which has an estimated four times the advertising budget that Burger King does.

The King, the chain’s robed mascot, emerged into the MGM Grand’s arena behind Floyd Mayweather’s in the much-anticipated (and very controversial) Floyd-Mayweather fight. The stunt drove a ton of conversation on Twitter and Facebook.

The King also showed up at the Belmont Stakes this year, sparking confusion, curiosity, and, ultimately, social engagement.

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By showing up at impromptu moments in unlikely places, the King has taken offline action and

generated massive social reactions.

Try this: What can your brand do offline that will resonate on social? This is another great illustration of how vital it is that social not be siloed, living only on particular networks and out of sync with the rest of the organization. Consider pulling an offline stunt for your brand that will organically stir up conversation on social, and use that as the seed for your next campaign.

Which High-Risk Campaigns Do You Admire?

Which brands pull off social campaigns that you once believed no one could get away with? Let us know on Twitter and download our social media campaign checklist below if you need a little help getting started with your own risky and rewarding campaign.

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Lucy Hitz

I’m the Head of Marketing Communications here at Simply Measured, where I'm responsible for our content program, social media marketing, PR, and comarketing ventures. I love yoga, The X-Files, peaty scotch, hiking, and poetry. If I were a social media channel, I’d want to be Instagram, but I think I’m Twitter.

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