'Nice selfie?' Trolls hijack Walkers' social media campaign

Walkers' spokesman Gary Lineker takes a selfie of his own during the launch of an earlier promotional campaign for the British snack maker.

Story highlights

  • Social media campaign pulled after selfie competition goes awry
  • Users submitted photos of serial killers and dictators

(CNN)Another company has scored a social media own-goal.

Walkers, a potato chip brand from the UK, launched a competition Thursday to win tickets to the UEFA Champions League final in Cardiff, Wales on June 4,
The brand teamed up with longtime spokesman and former footballer Gary Lineker to promote its "Walkers Wave" campaign, and asked fans to send in selfies in the hope of winning tickets to the centerpiece football match.
    At least, that was the plan.
    Quickly, some users realized the selfies weren't being checked thoroughly -- or at all -- and started sending in face shots of less than savory characters.
    Disgraced former child entertainers Jimmy Saville and Rolf Harris, both of whom were found to have molested children during their time as celebrities were both featured, as were British serial killers Fred West and Harold Shipman.
    Austrian Josef Fritzl, who was discovered to have kept his daughter imprisoned in a basement for decades, also made an appearance.
    The short videos that were created using the images show Lineker, holding a placard with the offending selfie superimposed on it, celebrating the campaign. He then glances at the -- presumably blank in pre-production -- board, remarking, "nice selfie."
    It then cuts to the highlighted face superimposed in a video of fans doing a Mexican wave.
    Former WWE wrestler Chris Benoit, who killed himself after murdering his wife and child, former Russian dictator Josef Stalin, as well as more benign choices such as former US Vice President Joe Biden and current UK opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn were also featured.

    The fallout

    If the debacle was contained online that might have been a small saving grace, but the videos almost made it to the real world -- they were planned to have been shown on large screens in Cardiff.
    All traces of the campaign have been removed from Walkers' social media sites, replaced only with a somber statement.
    "We recognize people were offended by irresponsible and offensive posts and we apologize," the company, which has a long history of football-related promotions, notably with last year's surprise English Premier League champions Leicester City, said.
    "We are equally upset and have shut the activity down."
    Lineker himself recognized the online faux pas, tweeting that he had "had an unusual day in some very strange company. I'm sure we'll wave goodbye to them all by tomorrow."
    Some Twitter users mocked the beleaguered social media department for the gaffe.
    While it may be true that no publicity is bad publicity, there are certainly some social media managers and ad executives who are still waking up in a cold sweat over their own massive missteps.

    Bad ads and Twitterati's wrath

    As countless other companies and organizations have found out to their peril, asking social media users -- especially British ones -- to be on their best behavior is a risky proposition.
    For sheer British inventiveness, who could forget Boaty McBoatface?
    Recent slip ups by companies looking to go viral include McDonald's, whose #McDstories call out came up with some truly horrific offerings, and Starbucks with its ill-timed #SpreadTheCheer campaign, which came on the heels of news that it had largely avoided paying tax in the UK.
    And more traditional ad campaigns can still incur the wrath of the Twitterati, as Pepsi -- whose protest-themed ad was roundly derided on social media and beyond -- well knows.
    It doesn't even need to be a viral campaign gone wrong -- any blank space seen online is a canvas for mischief, as these takes on Donald Trump's executive orders clearly show.