How To Royally Lose $120,000 In Social Media


If you spent $120,000 on a marketing campaign in the offline world only to fall asleep at the wheel, you’d be booted out of your office building faster than you could grab a box to throw your stuff in, no? So why do we treat online marketing differently? Let’s time warp back to the morning of April 29, 2011!

Last Friday, I was up at the crack of dawn to watch the Royal Wedding with a billion or so other people. Set up on the couch with my pillow, a blanket and a shiny magenta laptop, I opened up Twitter to be part of the royal conversation and see what other people were saying. I wasn’t surprised when I noticed the phrase #royalwedding trending; I wasn’t even surprised to see it was a Promoted Tweet. What did surprise me was who had sponsored it.

It wasn’t a wedding dress designer, England’s tourism board or any of the news outlets dedicated to providing non-stop coverage of the event. Instead, it was Slim Fast.

I’ll help you find the connection.

Wedding -> Bride -> Wedding Dress -> Bride Feels Fat -> Brides Wants to Lose Weight -> SLIM FAST!

Here’s the problem, that’s not a connection people were in the mindset to make when they tuned in to watch a fairytale unveiled before their very eyes. And that’s just the beginning of where Slim Fast began to drop the ball with this royal online marketing effort.

In the spirit of learning through example, below are some of the missteps Slim Fast made handling its big day and how you should avoid making the same ones. Because you probably don’t have $120,000 to throw into the wind. If you do, give me a call. You can buy me some stuff. Like half a condo.

Problem 1: Lack of Relevance

It’s possible I’m in the minority, but trying to tie something as common and middle class as Slim Fast to the royal wedding seemed like a tough association to make. Last month I asked whether or not real-time marketing could exist without elephant-sized backlash. As part of that post, I wrote:

The quickest way to become labeled an ambulance chaser is attempt to tie your brand into something it has no relationship with.

IMO, that’s what happened here. When viewers were tuning into to watch William and Catherine exchange their vows, they were doing so to be part of history, the magic, and the pomp and circumstance. Catherine was about to become a princess before our eyes; Slim Fast could have had the decency to wait til after the balcony kiss to call me a whale. At least let the credits roll before you drag me back to the reality of my weight issues.

Even if you you can pull a connection between yourself and something larger than you, doesn’t mean everyone else is ready to go on that same trip with you. And it’s not about you. It’s about them. If you’re not sharing the same mindset, you’re not going to capture their attention.

Problem 2: Weak Social Media Integration

Slim Fast was using its Promoted Tweet to direct people to the Wedding Ready tab on its Facebook Page. The tab is designed to offer brides tips on how to prepare for their big day by starting their Slim Fast diet 8 weeks before the big day. Now, I’ll skip any commentary about how insulting this is to women, and just tell you that for $120,000 you better be working some rock hard social media abs. They really weren’t.

If you checked out Slim Fast’s wall, there was no evidence of the brand actually engaging with people or starting conversations. If you thought the conversation was happening back on Twitter, nope, crickets. Slim Fast sent out all of 11 tweets during the hours the Royal Wedding took place…none of which were anything more than Slim Fast talking to itself. No replies. No engagement. No nothing.

If you’re going to attempt to tie yourself to an event, especially one where the connection is weak to begin with, you damn well better put on your best dress and WORK IT. Slim Fast never quite showed up for the ball and it was a little disappointing. If that was my company’s money, I would have hosted the world’s biggest Twitter chat. I would have had multiple people manning replies, I would have been hopping into conversations across the board, I would have become a networking crazy person. There was nothing.

Problem 3: They thought the billboard was enough

The beauty of social media is the ability for a brand to tighten its message and really target it to the RIGHT segment of their audience. Instead, Slim Fast created a quasi-relevant billboard and threw it in the middle of Time’s Square hoping someone would notice. They noticed. They just weren’t that compelled to act because it wasn’t relevant to them. The result was that for $120,000, Slim Fast bought itself 300 or so new followers. That’s what — $400 bucks or so a follower? Nice ROI.

Where Slim Fast’s marketing attempt failed was that they didn’t actually use the digital medium they were purchasing, either because they didn’t know how or they simply thought the billboard would be enough. You can’t approach online the same way you would off. Instead, you should be taking advantage of your ability to segment your audience, to talk to people in real-time, to have a conversation with them about the Royal Wedding as its still happening. That’s how you form that connection with people and relate over a common experience. But there was no human element to the campaign at all. It was just a billboard.

If you saw Slim Fast’s luke warm attempt at using Twitter and social media marketing as a sign that there’s no ROI here or it’s not something you should be experimenting with, realize they’re only a good example of what not to do. If you’re going to get involved in any type of Twitter or real-time marketing, you need to find an event you’re actually relevant for, be topical, be human, and, above all, get out there and make your presence known. Otherwise, what a royal waste of time (and money).

Your Comments

  • Angelos

    Great post. I see this all the time. All I can think is “who are you talking to again?”

    Or worse, “a twitter handle does not a social media campaign make.”

    • Lisa Barone

      In Slim Fast’s case it appeared they were marketing to everyone, but talking to no one. So, you know, sort of like traditional media. Problem was they tried to do it online.

      And definitely – A Twitter handle is not a social media plan. Just like having a car doesn’t mean you can drive it.

  • Kristi

    All good points. They did not work it very well.

    I have to admit I saw their promoted tweet and laughed. It IS kind of relevant. My wedding was 7 years ago and damn, I was on every diet you could imagine. :) And Kate REALLY did look super skinny, ya gotta admit. A little too skinny…

    • Lisa Barone

      I can see how Slim Fast tried to force relevance (there was a tiny sliver to grow from!), but I don’t think it was relevant enough for the demographic watching the Royal Wedding. It just seemed a little desperate to me. I wasn’t watching the wedding worrying about my weight. I was tuning into to see the new princess! :)

      And Kate is way thin. But, I’d probably be super thin if a billion people were always watching me all the time, too. :)

      • Dean Collins

        hmmm i think the targetting made sense, every bride i know has “looked for a shortcut” in the months before the big day.

        • Lisa Barone

          But what percentage of the people watching the royal weddings were currently in the process of planning a wedding?

          • Josh

            I agree the execution could have been better, but I think the targeting was spot on. Yes a small percent of the total viewers were brides to be, but, what percent of the total brides to be (on twitter) do you think were watching (I’ll bet it was above 90%). I also agree it was pricey, but a company the size of slimfast can throw that out without even measuring the results and call it branding (think about how many super bowl ads pull in a positive ROI).

  • Phil

    I think you’re right for the most part. What I disagree with is your assessment of the intention of the campaign. It feels to me like the target audience was correct, but the execution was way off.

    These brands need to get past the idea that “if I put up an ad, it doesn’t really matter where I send the user to as long as they see my brand name”. I would have loved to have been in the meeting when someone came up with the idea to use a promoted ad on Twitter, to which everyone in the room cried “brilliant!” before asking (or not asking) “wait, where should we send these people when they click?” and “how are we going to engage these people in a meaningful way that does not seem manufactured and disingenuous?”. Those questions should be asked first, not last.

    • Lisa Barone

      Excellent points. The execution was definitely off. They spent all this money to send people from Twitter to Facebook…only to have nothing really there for them when they arrived. They didn’t even have anyone talking to people on Twitter, where the promotion and the experience was supposed to begin. The questions of “where are we going to send them” and “what are we going to do once they’re there” definitely appeared to not have been answered. And it was obvious to everyone. They put up a billboard and then walked away from it.

  • Michelle

    PERFECT! You could not have struck the nail on the head more squarely. I have a chance to work with local businesses on their Social Media projects from time to time – and I see many of them failing because they are relying on their “consultants” audience to “get fans” and to “engage” when they themselves are completely disconnected. I’ll be bookmarking this one as a pre-read before my next client consult.

  • searchengineman

    Not the first mistake for Slim-Fast Marketing Group, or social media mistake.

    “On July 13, The New York Post reported that the actress’ “X-rated rant against President Bush at a New York fundraiser for Democrat John Kerry” offended consumers and Republican activists who began calling for a boycott of Slim-Fast

    Grey Global Group’s Grey in New York has long handled Slim-Fast weight-loss products, now owned by Unilever. Grey created the 8-month-old campaign in which Goldberg talks about her battle of the bulge and says, “Come on, if I can be a big loser, there’s nothing stopping you.” A Grey representative declined comment. ”


  • Shevonne

    I agree! It definitely screams “traditional marketing.” If that was the case, they should have used the $120,000 on printed ads. Also, I didn’t instantly make the connection either (Lose weight for wedding) until you spelled it out. Whoever is in charge of their marketing department, should get fired and sued to pay back the $120,000 they wasted.

  • bluephoenixnyc

    Two things:

    1) Excellent use of crowns as bullet points.

    2) This is a great reminder that the internet, in a strange way, is an equalizer of sorts when it comes to making marketers: The mom-and-pop shops have quickly picked up on how to “do Twitter right” while giant monoliths like Slim Fast just blow a small fortune on social media without knowing what they’re doing.

    I think the internet will just perpetuate this trend: Venerable brands, being successful offline, will continue to trail nimble start-ups in the online world. Perhaps a few will defy the status quo, though.

  • Garry Polmateer

    This is a great article, thanks for all the detail on WHY it was a failure and not just stating the obvious.

    Bonus points for the pun “World’s Biggest Twitter Conversation”.


  • Jerry McCarthy

    Interesting Lisa. Perfect example of big companies who are small minded. Best part is behind the failed campaign is five marketing executives pointing the finger at each other. Where has common sense gone? It doesn’t take rocket science to figure out how to squander 160k in a few hours-just insult your demographic. I wonder how much Groupon lost during their mindless Super Bowl campaign where they mocked the seriousness of some of our most detrimental global issues. How does one miss the mark by such a large margin?

  • Aussiewebmaster

    what was the tweet? SlimFast can help you have your own fairy tale wedding – with a link to Facebook page with help to slim down for wedding

    • Lisa Barone

      No, that may have been relevant. It was something about wedding dress designers…which then went to their FB page that had nothing to do with dresses or designers.

      • kd kelly

        It seems to me they were but a few (rather large) details away from relevance. If the tweet had been worded as @Aussiewebmaster suggested, with a landing page had been a contest for brides-to-be to win a royal wedding dress replica (perhaps by submitting a video of how Slim-Fast was helping them to their goal?) that would have been pure gold. As mentioned in the comments above, surely the percentage of brides-to-be who tuned in to the royal wedding was very high, and there are few times in life women are more weight-conscious. They had the right idea, really, and a very appropriate moment, if only they’d made that connection. And contest submissions, buzz, and the romantic story of the winning entry would have kept Slim-Fast rolling in tweeting material for months to come.

        They were close, though! Maybe when Prince Harry gets married they’ll do better :)

  • Mitch Bartlett

    Great post. I sent this to all of my peeps who work in social media (or think they do). They all needed a lesson.

  • Mags Doyle

    I loved this. So often no one calls anyone out on lame engagement during a campaign, as though just by doing a campaign you are justified in your efforts. This is a great example of a company not strategizing and understanding the tools, the community, and most of all, their customer.

  • Joshua

    Harsh! Nice catch too. That is insane, but when are part of Unilever you can throw 120k away and recover. I hope Slim Fast CO’s see this post and higher you.

  • Joanna Sayers

    Completely agree with you Lisa.

    Did Slim Fast get into the Royal Wedding because our new Princess / HRH the Duchess of Cambridge (aka Catherine Middleton) was super slim? I wonder if they’d have done the same if she had been, shall we say, a little plump?…or would they still have missed the whole insult to women thing again?

    The internet is full of people and big businesses that think you can make tons of money online by doing very little.

    There’s no such thing as a free lunch people!

  • Gabriele Maidecchi

    This looks to me like the classic old-school advertising campaign with social media sprinkled on top of it – a 120k dollars sprinkling.
    One thing is having a tight integration where the brand interacts and actually have a plan about how to do it. Another thing is just this, adding “social media” to something that clearly was thought as a simple online transposition of an offline campaign.

  • Stephen Johnston

    The campaign was not relevant to *you*. I’m not sure that there is any campaign for an event of that size would not ring hollow for some of them. However, I didn’t even realize Slim Fast sponsored it on Twitter, yet here I am reading your blog about it and learning that.

    • Lisa Barone

      I didn’t even realize Slim Fast sponsored it on Twitter, yet here I am reading your blog about it and learning that.

      And for $120,000, do you not think that’s a major problem? Because, I do.

      • Stephen Johnston

        I would not expect $120,000 to get me visibility with every Twitter user regardless of how those users use Twitter. I didn’t follow the Royal Wedding on Twitter. Why would I see the sponsorship? Slim Fast didn’t sponsor the TV coverage where I did see some of the wedding. Twitter isn’t the be-all-end-all communication medium.

  • Mike

    I cannot help but feel that Slim Fast completely misjudged the public’s opinions regarding the Royal Wedding, and in part the tabloid media are responsible for this. Countless, trashy magazines have been talking about the wedding in terms of Kate Middleton’s weight, the size of her wedding dress, and with the focus then shifting to her sister it’s clear to see that an agenda was set, and Slim Fast decided to jump on it.

    It’s as much a sign of the irrelevance of the tabloid media in today’s world as a sign that Slim Fast completely missed the point. Slim Fast went along with the media’s over-analysing tone of the wedding and found an area of pointless discussion that they could latch onto.

    So yes, a ton of money wasted, a brand slightly damaged but ultimately a sign that if you need to know if there is a market before you try to push something; something that’s true even in offline media.

  • Emma Brooks

    Lisa – Great post. I am forwarding this along to everyone in my company.

    I also find it funny that they’re tweeting the same thing for both Facebook AND Twitter (at least today). Oy, duplicate content. What a bad idea. How about give a user individual reasons for following BOTH their Twitter and Facebook accounts, rather than a choice.

  • Nick LeRoy

    I didn’t partake in the crazy wedding hoopla but going off your notes above I think the biggest issue they had was the lack of communication. Twitter is best used (IMO) for direct communication with fans/customers. Sending out 11 tweets or so is ridiculous. Constant participation throughout the event through both Twitter and Facebook would have probably yielded them one hell of an ROI. I guess we will never know now huh?

  • Jeff

    Slim fast blew this one big time. Their marketing guys are not worth the money.

  • Rick Glaser

    Sweet, I love great examples of reverse investing, and dumping money out the window. Maybe they can recoup some of their waste by having people blog about how dumb they are. Or maybe they just a new set of marketers.

  • Bharat Patel

    I am actually shocked to hear that even there are companies like Slim Fast who are burning out there money like this. If you had not explained the connection between the wedding and slim fast it would have been really not linkable at all. This is really a lesson for all Internet marketers out there who thinks they are the best.
    This will Really make me think at least twice before starting any campaign. What a wastage of money.