Coke Drops Ball On Assassination PR Spin

    October 12, 2006
    WebProNews Staff

That a labor union at a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Columbia was accusing the company of hiring paramilitary groups to torture and assassinate union leaders is just an interesting side note; the real story, as circulated by those in this ecommerce industry, is how Coke turned the tides on its accusers with targeted keyword public relations.

Since Media Post and Danny Sullivan wrote about the incident, it appears, at least from this side of the servers, that Coke is no longer running an AdWords campaign aimed at assuring those searching for [killer coke] that the lawsuit was dismissed.

Media Post’s Shankar Gupta calls the labor union pleading for Coke to stop killing its leaders “critics,” whom Coke countered with search ads. Sullivan skipped the critic angle altogether, focusing on the “bad PR” and the strengths and weakness of Coke’s approach to search marketing.

Of course, they, like I do, write for an ebusiness publication. So I guess, I’ll need to cut to what it means for the emarketer as well. The Internet’s a little busy.

    What To Do If Your Foreign Employees Accuse You Of Torture and Murder
    1. Keep the story quiet in your home country. Look: Google News results for the term [killer coke] yield 57 links, not all of which actually refer to the lawsuit, even though the suit was filed in 2001. This is good because you don’t want too many links to the list of bottling plant union leaders tortured, kidnapped and/or killed.

    2. When the federal judge dismisses the lawsuit, not because of the merit of the case, but because accusations were “vague,” bid on little-used negative keyword and launch AdWords campaign with text reading [Accused Company] Lawsuit Dismissed so that all looking for the information know.

    3. Get marketing and PR industry writers and experts to comment on company’s new PR strategy. Buzz is buzz, especially if it’s diversion buzz.

    4. Before the bad part of the story starts really gaining critical mass, launch a new diet drink. Look: Google News results for Coke’s new calorie-burning green tea bring back 131 articles, more than double the results for [killer coke]. Besides, as Sullivan illustrates with a Google Trends chart, hardly anybody’s searching for [killer coke].

Though Coke is the new case study in how to use AdWords to bolster PR spin, they made one crucial mistake. They didn’t bid on the keyword [coke]. is the number three result for that search term, which is a huge blunder.

From SearchEngineWatch:

But c’mon. This is Coke being savvy? A regular search for coke on Google doesn’t carry this ad. That means plenty of people are seeing the Killer Coke site ranking well but not getting a counter message from Coke itself.

Perhaps it is an oversight, though it might be intentional — trying to target those specifically searching for “killer coke” with a positive message without trying to be too in the face of those doing regular searches who might not know about the allegations.

The lesson here, then, obviously, is when you’re beating back an image problem centering on paramilitary assassination accusations, it’s important to have your search marketing campaign ducks in a row. The marketing gods at Coca-Cola should have known better.


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