A still from a feminist music video parodying Robin Thicke's song "Blurred Lines."
Today in hilariously terrible social media marketing schemes, VH1 invited people to ask singer Robin Thicke any question they wanted by using the hashtag #AskThicke. The public Q&A was supposed to be good publicity for Thicke’s new album—which has gotten good reviews from media outlets that seem to not care about Thicke’s history or intentions: Time described it as “a delightfully pleasant listen if you forget pretty much everything about Thicke’s year."
But among many people, Thicke’s rapey song lyrics and misogynic “Blurred Lines” video overwhelm any of his catchy tunes. When VH1 opened up the #AskThicke floodgates, a wave of blistering and hilarious questions immediately flooded the hashtag.
The twitter discussion only lasted 15 minutes, but the #AskThicke hashtag continues. Thicke’s attempt to create hype on Twitter certainly did snag attention—but the overwhelming amount of it was negative. Sexual assault survivors tweeted with #AskThicke about his triggering lyrics. Other users slammed Thicke about the concept of his latest album, which was created to win back the heart of Paula Patton, his estranged wife.
Here are some examples of what ensued:
This is just the most recent example of a hashtag backfiring on a controversial figure in a major way. Marketers who dream up social media campaigns don’t seem to get that Twitter is a place that's rife with people speaking out against institutions and celebrities. That’s exactly what makes Twitter powerful—it’s a platform where regular peoples’ voices can be heard on par with well-funded folks who are trying to promote a specific message. If a top-down message being promoted on Twitter seems false or offensive, people have the ability to effectively hijack the conversation.
In 2012, for example, McDonald’s #McDStories campaign resulted in horrific tales of finger nails in foods and cruel treatment of animals. Earlier this year, the New York Police Department tried out #myNYPD on Twitter, hoping for users to send in photos with officers. Instead, people filled Twitter with photos of police brutality and misconduct. When marketers try to use a hashtag to convey one message, they're inviting failure. Trying to promote a specific industry message to an interactive platform that thrives on dissent will inevitably lead to dialogue that’s not corporate-friendly. Advertising is all about controlling your message and the very nature of social media sites like Twitter and Tumblr undermine that control.
From my perspective, this #AskThicke situation feels like comeuppance for Thicke and his PR folks, since they're getting an earful from the general public. Instead of building a conversation around his new album, VH1 unwittingly turned the megaphone the other direction, making Robin Thicke see the anger and disgust his work has created.
Related Reading: Is Robin Thicke trolling feminists?
Lucy Vernasco is the new media intern at Bitch. She last wrote about Google's Made With Code campaign.