Facebook’s betrayal: why Westfield’s $10,000 promotion may come back to bite the hand it so fleetingly fed

Westfield_promotion_facebook
with the dust settling on Westfield's controversial Facebook application and the weekend drawing nigh, it's perhaps time to reflect – once again – on the trials, perils and pitfalls of brands rushing in to enter the social media spaces that angels fear to tread.

to recap.  last weekend saw Westfield launch a promotion on Facebook which offered a place in a $10,000 prize draw to anyone who updated their Facebook status using the Westfield Gift Card Application.  controversy and criticism soon grew however.

rumors that the promo was a hoax, suggestions that opened your Book to spam and viruses, difficult to find T&Cs and the cluttering of many a newsfeed led to the creation of dozens of anti groups and finally yesterday to the shutting down of the promotion.  three observations…

one, mission accomplished.  if the brief was to get into and make some noise in the space owned by people rather than on-to-many media then its a job well done and M&C Saatchi and Ikon Communications should be congratulated.  we can only assume that the brief was such – any requirement to build brand credibility or improve perceptions of Westfield couldn't, or certainly shouldn't, have resulted in such a maverick solution.  which brings me to…

two, it does appear to be the most invasive of promotions.  the application essentially allows Westfield to spam peoples' Facebook friends with auto status updates saying, "All I want for Christmas is a Westfield gift card".  more than a couple of them in my news feed would have taken me to the brink.  not that it bothered University student Kristy Bell.  the Courier Mail reports that she didn't think twice about adding the application…  "I don't care that it can pull details from your profile – pretty much all Facebook applications can" she said.  a point well made Kristy, but most pretty much all applications on Facebook do so to add utility (that mantra again) to your online / social / life experience.

three, and most importantly.  digi strategist Tom Kelshaw posted that the competition appears to be breaking Facebook's rather strict terms and conditions, which state that:

4.2 In the rules of the promotion, or otherwise, you will not condition entry to the promotion upon taking any action on Facebook, for example, updating a status, posting on a profile or Page, or uploading a photo.

but in a statement earlier this week Westfield claimed that "its Christmas Gift Card promotion on Facebook is a registered promotion. Westfield worked closely with Facebook to develop the competition and Westfield has legal advice that the promotion does not breach the Spam Act."

if this statement is to be believed, Facebook actively participated in the development of an invasive and controversial application that contravened its own terms and conditions.  this is important for a whole load of reasons, not least because it undermines trust in Facebook – the media brand around which many of us choose to organise social activities, communicate with friends and share things that interest, intrigue or amuse us.

Westfield, M&C Saatchi and Ikon Communications can walk away from this with a short term hit and learnings for next time.  but a few more of these and Facebook may find its not brands but users that are walking away from the social network that sold them out for a quick buck from a brand that thought that an invasive land grab into people's personal media space was the smart let alone the right thing to do.

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