Some companies create videos they hope will go viral. Others have video greatness thrust upon them. These five companies wish they could recall videos that made them look very, very bad.
Viral videos gone wrong
A viral video can build up a brand in hours — and knock it down even faster.
The same tool that can create priceless free publicity can easily become a double-edged sword, and plenty of companies in recent years have seen the downside of online videography. Here are some the worst viral videos gone wrong.
While many have long joked about the unsavory things that go on in restaurant kitchens, several Domino's Pizza employees in North Carolina left nothing to the imagination in 2009 when they taped their exploits and put them online for all to see.
In videos posted on YouTube, a Domino's employee prepares sandwiches for delivery while putting cheese up his nose, mucus on the food, and violating other health-code standards as a fellow employee looks on and provides a play-by-play description.
While the employees were immediately fired and charged with felony counts of delivering prohibited food, the online video quickly damaged the pizza chain's reputation after being viewed by millions in just a few days.
"We got blindsided by two idiots with a video camera and an awful idea," a Domino's spokesman told The New York Times. "Even people who've been with us as loyal customers for 10, 15, 20 years, people are second-guessing their relationship with Domino's, and that's not fair."
America Online found out how silly scripted customer service representatives can sound when a New York man recorded his attempt to cancel his service.
After hearing numerous horror stories about how hard it was to cancel an AOL account, Vincent Ferrari decided to tape his stab at turning off his account in 2006. What ensued was a lengthy call that included Ferrari's constant yet polite pleas for the customer service representative to approve the cancellation.
Rather than yield to Ferrari's request, the AOL representative kept reading from a script, asking questions about how much Ferrari used the account and what kind of internet connection he had — and eventually asking to speak with the 30-year-old's father.
At one point, Ferrari says, "When I say, 'Cancel the account,' I don't mean, 'Figure out how to help me keep it.' I mean, 'Cancel the account.'"
The call lasted 21 minutes, but its aftermath was far lengthier for AOL.
Ferrari posted the video on his blog and it immediately went viral, landing Ferrari on the "Today Show" and in The New York Times and prompting AOL to publicly apologize.
"We have zero tolerance for customer-care incidents like this — which is deeply regrettable and also absolutely inexcusable," an AOL spokesman said at the time, adding the customer service representative was fired for his actions.
Last year, FedEx quickly saw how one bad apple can spoil the bunch when one of its delivery drivers was caught on security camera literally dropping off a package.
In the midst of its busy season last December, the shipping giant's image took a big hit when a 20-second video went viral showing one of its deliverymen carelessly tossing one of his packages — with a computer monitor inside — over the fence of a California home. The video was even more damning with its description, which read, "The sad part is that I was home at the time with the front door wide open. All he would have had to do was ring the bell on the gate."
In less than a day, the video was seen by millions, prompting FedEx to defend itself through a series of blogs and online videos of its own.
"We are also going to build this into our training programs as a constant reminder of the importance of earning — and keeping — your trust with every single delivery," FedEx Senior Vice President Matthew Thornton wrote in his blog. "We hope that you, like the customer involved in this incident, will see it as an unfortunate exception that proves the rule that our company cares for its customers."
Hell hath no fury like a musician scorned, as United Airlines discovered in 2009 when one of its baggage handlers destroyed a guitar as its owner looked on from inside the plane.
The musician, Dave Carroll, became enraged when his numerous struggles to have United accept responsibility for the $1,200 in damage failed. When his frequent calls to United customer service representatives became futile, Carroll put his songwriting skills to use. He penned a clever and catchy song describing his nine-month ordeal and condemning the airline for the situation.
"You broke it, you should fix it. You're liable, just admit it. I should've flown with someone else. Or gone by car," Carroll sings.
The video, which was seen by more than 4 million people in less than a month, did more than just damage United's reputation. According to Chris Ayers of The Times Online in the United Kingdom, the incident cost the airline tens of millions of dollars.
Within four days of the song going online, the gathering thunderclouds of bad PR caused United Airlines' stock price to suffer a mid-flight stall, and it plunged by 10 percent, costing shareholders $180 million. Which, incidentally, would have bought Carroll more than 51,000 replacement guitars," Ayers wrote.
Having an employee caught sleeping on the job is bad enough. Having it seen by millions is even worse, as Comcast discovered in 2006 when a technician for the cable company came out to fix a Georgetown University student's faulty modem.
The student, Brian Finkelstein, grabbed his video camera and started it rolling after watching the technician spend an hour on hold with his central office and then fall asleep on his couch.
Finkelstein used the footage to produce a video that railed at Comcast's faulty equipment, high prices and horrendous customer service.
The 58-second video cost the technician his job and forced the cable company into publicly apologizing.
"We obviously do not condone what was represented in the video," a Comcast spokesman told the Reuters at the time.
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Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance business and technology writer who has worked in public relations and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cbrooks76.