Pranksters Commandeer Mountain Dew Web Promotion

It's a rough time to be a social marketer, and getting rougher: Mountain Dew announced a naming contest for its new Apple flavor over the weekend. As if on cue, Internet pranksters hijacked the contest. Not content with stuffing the virtual ballot box, they defaced the contest website with videos, offensive banners and in-jokes.

PepsiCo, maker of Mountain Dew, shut down the “Dub the Dew” contest site early Monday morning. The soft drink company was by no means the first victim of the notoriously juvenile Web community known as 4chan.

The hijinks began as a post on 4chan’s infamous /b/ discussion board that put out a call to take part in Operation: Gushing Granny. The operation's stated mission was to name the new Apple-flavored drink "Gushing Granny."

A /b/ user shared 4chan’s digital mayhem on the social news site Reddit early Sunday evening under the title “/b/ Destroys Another Online Contest.” The post hit Reddit's front page within hours. 

From there, the contest attracted a wider audience of miscreants, as reflected by the top contest names. “Hitler Did Nothing Wrong” and “Diabeetus” soon became the top voted names. One audience member offered to raffle a virtual hat in a popular multiplayer online game in return for votes for his Mountain Dew name submission, drawing new waves of voters both for and against it.

By 1am Pacific on Monday, messing with Mountain Dew had become the hottest activity for anyone on Reddit and 4chan's /b/ board at that hour. It wasn’t long before tricksters added to the Mountain Dew page a link to the rock video for Rick Astley's 1987 pop hit "Never Gonna Give You Up" (an Internet in-joke known as a rickroll) as well as Web banners “saluting” Islamic extremists

PespiCo pulled the plug on the after-hours fun, but not before someone mirrored its site to memorialize the Web reprobate party.

Online promotions staged by commercial entities are an increasingly popular target of online jokers. In July, Walmart’s social media campaign with rapper Pitbull was taken over by Something Awful writers David Thorpe and John Hendren. However, in that case, the prank worked out well for the retailer, in the form of hundreds of free press mentions. Thorpe told ReadWriteWeb the Walmart Pitbull hijacking became popular because it was a “collaborative prank.”

Given how easy it is to appropriate crowd-sourced marketing campaigns, perhaps marketers would be smart to design their social media campaigns deliberately to be hijack-able.