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Of Brand Hijacks and PR Nightmares: A Tale of Two Brands and One Flub

by Angela Natividad  |  
March 16, 2010

In December, megabrand Heinz discovered an impersonator on Twitter: one @hj_heinz. The mystery hijacker had Heinz ketchup bottles for a Twitter background and had been sharing ketchup-related recipes and company tidbits with Heinz lovers in the Twittersphere.

The account had been running for two weeks when Heinz discovered it. Heinz immediately contacted Twitter and had the account stripped (subscription required) of any suggestion the user was associated with the brand.

The next time Michael Werch, the account owner, logged in, he found that his background and bio had been removed and his username had been changed to @NOThj_heinz. No explanation was provided except for a generic message from Twitter saying he'd violated its trademark policy.

Werch, who is an avid Heinz lover, was surprised and upset. He contacted Twitter and offered to work things out with a Heinz representative. He got no response, which was a big mistake.

In February, gave him the opportunity to recount his side of the story—which was then picked up by All Things Digital, BusinessWeek, and countless blogs. Moreover, he revealed to his Twitter followers that he wasn't a Heinz representative, and they encouraged him to continue what he was doing.

The follower count for NOThj_heinz has more than doubled since the incident; people seem to like what he has to share, even if he's not a bona fide Heinz employee.

Here's another story...

Recently, director Kevin Smith, of the Jay and Silent Bob series of films—was kicked off a Southwest Airlines flight for allegedly threatening the safety and comfort of other passengers because of his generous waistline.

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Angela Natividad is a social media strategist, copywriter, and journalist based in Paris. A Bay Area native and lover of vending machine candies, she co-founded and is a frequent guest on marketing podcast The Beancast. You can follow her on Twitter at @luckthelady.

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  • by Howie at Sky Pulse Media Tue Mar 16, 2010 via web

    This was a very well written article. I have many years experience in sales and customer service, as well as extensive experience traveling on business. The worst thing a business can do is alienate a passionate customer or client. Alienating someone patronizing you just because of price or convenience like Kevin Smith was bad enough. Because with Social Media it's not: Make a customer happy they tell 1 person make them unhappy they tell 10. Now its exponential. Which makes the passionate customer/client even worse. Before Twitter or Facebook Michael's friends would of known he loved Heinz and possibly reacted. But that is how many people? Now 1000 people know Michael's passion.
    I think because Heinz is unique they are a bit arrogant. They have really no equal in ketchup . But they make other products why risk a boycott.

    As for the avenues of response to turn something bad into a good very on the mark. The author is very wise has solutions brands should listen up about.

  • by Teri Tue Mar 16, 2010 via web

    Excellent excellent post. I saw both social media mistakes and frankly, was horrified that SWA, who has been proactive &positive in the space and in fact lauded by the industry, so bungled how they handled the Kevin Smith situation. To me, it's the more egregious of the two as it was such a public mishandling of the situation, when the whole thing could be effectively neutralized by being honest, 'fessing up in public, and apologizing. They misread Smith's justified rancor and the intensity with which he was willing to pursue the issue. One step forward, three steps back.

    The Heinz case is more of a missed opportunity. Here the "offender" was doing something positive for the brand, which Heinz could have blessed and ensured that its brand messaging was consistent and positive. Instead, they risked alienating a loyal and positive customer, and left themselves with no voice in the channel. Very short-sighted.

  • by MikeyS Wed Mar 31, 2010 via web

    You should check out what is going on with Chex Mix right now on Whoever is running that channel is friendly to the brand and very funny, but I wouldn't be surprised if its just a fan and not General mills at all.

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