Seven easy steps marketers must take now to avoid a Heinz porn-gate style disaster

There is a far bigger issue at the heart of Heinz' porn-gate disaster that marketers must get a grip of: the fact that industry needs to consider the full lifecycle of a campaign rather than jumping on poorly thought out, short term gimmicks argues, Victoria Alexis from Futurice London.

Red faced: Heinz PR slip up shows importance of considering a campaign's full lifecycle
Red faced: Heinz PR slip up shows importance of considering a campaign's full lifecycle

The recent red faces at Heinz in Germany where an old campaign QR code had been hijacked by a site of adult entertainment interest are a symptom of a wider issue with many big brands using ‘innovative’ technology without really considering the wider agenda.

Often the latest tech trend or gimmick is thrown at brands by their agencies on a campaign basis without looking at the long-term picture

Often the latest tech trend or gimmick is thrown at brands by their agencies on a campaign basis without looking at the long-term picture. In this case, using a visual QR code to trigger an interaction is such an out-of-date technology that it doesn’t even have any of the protections of newer, markerless augmented reality systems where the destination web address can’t be hacked at all. This was a poor choice of tool for the job in the first place. 

The other fundamental issue here is Heinz not allowing for the Lifecycle management of the campaign. Building in the process of "what happens after it ends?" is often overlooked in digital campaigns. There remains a digital graveyard of ghost campaign assets where long-dead campaign assets are floating in cyberspace hosted potentially forever because no-one knows what they are or if they are being used

How does a brand avoid these embarrassing things happening in future?

  • Make sure you have a lifecycle management plan in place. Does it take into account what happens when the campaign / service is switched off?
  • Is there data that needs to be cleaned up? Allow some campaign budget for this from the start
  • Documentation should also be produced detailing how to manage the assets of the campaign. Often nobody involved in building the campaign will be working on it by the time it’s turned off. You need instructions for any competent third party to be able to do this
  • Is the party that developed the campaign, aware of the fact that it’s being shut down, so they can remove all their data if need be?
  • If the campaign has a scheduled end date, make sure that it’s well documented so it doesn’t come as a surprise

If physical, real world marketing materials are involved, ask yourself these two questions

  • How does the user know whether this campaign is still live or not?
  • If the non-digital asset is no longer valid, what’s the worst thing that can happen? A lost marketing opportunity when the user is steered to the service root and not informed about the fact that the campaign has run out? Disappointment at not finding the desired page? Or worse, such as a third party using the opportunity to display their content?

Perhaps it’s time to look at digital marketing campaigns in a different way entirely.

We should challenge the very need for time-limited campaigns

Campaigns were formed back in the early days of advertising to comply with print deadlines and TV ad slots.

By nature they are short term consumer engagement plays with limited life spans and these days there’s actually no need for ‘time limited’ marketing and advertising campaigns, especially when the packaging of an FMCG brand can be constantly in use as a carrier for interactive experiences and a multitude of ever-changing consumer interactions.  We should challenge the very need for time-limited campaigns.


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Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).

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