McDonalds Saudi and the Saudi national who was arrested – a lesson in virality and crisis comms

Last week Saudi’s social media space was alive with chatter and calls for a boycott. But this wasn’t for a global cause, a political issue, or a case of consumer activism. It wasn’t even about the color of a dress or the shenanigans of a Kardashian. Instead, it was about a Saudi national who tweeted a complaint about the drink he’d been served at a McDonalds restaurant and the rapidly escalating series of events which got him put in jail.

I’m going to try to keep this story as simple as possible for factual reasons.

A young Saudi national Abdulrahman bin Jumah was at a McDonalds outlet in Jeddah on the 19th of October and ordered a meal, which included a coke. Inside the cup, he claimed he found a cockroach. He then shared the image on social media to his followers (which I assume would have been less than the 3,216 followers he has now). As Abdulrahman deleted his Tweets, here’s an alleged image from another Saudi Twitter account who retweeted the Tweet.

This was the initial tweet from Abdulrahman on the 19th of October with the alleged cockroach in the cup

This was the initial tweet from Abdulrahman on the 19th of October with the alleged cockroach in the cup

Abdulrahman tweeted his experience and contacted the local municipality online at their Twitter account @JeddahAmanah. The municipality took swift action and closed the branch in question the day after on the 20th.

Simple enough? You’d think so (and restaurant closures are a fairly common occurrence in Saudi as you can see from this tweet announcing the closure of a KFC outlet in Jeddah. I cannot comment as to whether a restaurant closure would be common for McDonalds Saudi).

After a day however (I’m assuming here the 21st), the branch reopened and Abdulrahman tweeted his thoughts on the issue, namely that he was surprised that the branch could open so soon, and that he wasn’t looking for compensation but rather an apology for the experience. Again, these are screen shots as the original tweets were deleted.

Abdulrahman tweeted his surprise at how the restaurant could have opened so soon after its closure for an alleged health violation

Abdulrahman tweeted his surprise at how the restaurant could have opened so soon after its closure for an alleged health violation

Now this is where it gets murky as later on in the day Abdulrahman was accused of defamation by McDonalds Saudi Arabia. He tweeted his experiences as he was first accused of defamation…

Abdulrahman shared on Twitter the news that McDonalds had made an allegation of defamation against him. Defamation is a criminal offense in Saudi Arabia

Abdulrahman shared on Twitter the news that McDonalds Saudi had made an allegation of defamation against him. Defamation is a criminal offense in Saudi Arabia

And then arrested by the police. Defamation is a criminal rather than a civil offense in Saudi Arabia. After the below tweet Abdulrahman’s timeline supposedly goes quiet.

The Saudi at the center of the allegation was even tweeting as he was being held by police for defamation

The Saudi at the center of the allegation was even tweeting as he was being held by police for defamation

On the 22nd Abdulrahman tweeted an apology, four times, writing that the bug was not in the cup and that he was sorry for using social media when making the allegations against McDonalds Saudi. The second time he used two hashtags, McDonalds arrests the national and we are all Abdulrahman Jumah (ماكدونالدز_تعاقب_مواطن #كلنا_عبدالرحمن_جمعه#)

McDonalds Saudi also put out a statement online in response to many in Saudi who have come out to ask about the allegations or who have supported Abdulrahman stating that the case was caused by an intention to gain financially from the allegation that he’d made and that, following the apology, McDonalds Saudi had dropped the case.

McDonalds issued a statement

McDonalds issued a statement that the allegation was false and the case is now closed

Abdulrahman deleted all of the story’s tweets, except those in which he makes an apology.

Without knowing the facts in the case, it’s hard to know what really happened. Did Abdulrahman really find a cockroach in his drink or was it a case of extortion? However, Saudis on Twitter have not been kind to McDonalds Saudi and their involvement of the police. The hashtags used by Jumah are replete with angry responses to McDonalds Saudi. The case has also made the national media, albeit indirectly.

Makkah Daily's Abdullah Bin Jaber parodied the story in typical fashion by lampooning McDonalds for their actions

Makkah Daily’s Abdullah Bin Jaber parodied the story in typical fashion by lampooning McDonalds Saudi for their actions

McDonalds Saudi certainly acted quickly in terms of responding to the crisis, but did they respond in the right way? Has the issue done more damage than it otherwise would have thanks to the actions of McDonalds Saudi, or were they right in involving the police when they did due to their belief that they were being blackmailed?

What are your thoughts? What lessons can we take from this case? I’d love to hear from you.

PS Saudi social media personality Omar Hussein has also talked about the issue. For you Arabic-language speakers out there you can see his Facebook video below.

A hijab, bacon and McDonalds’ breakfasts – the wonderful world of Ramadan advertising

Ramadan is a wonderful month, a time of spirituality for the world’s Muslims. It’s also the time of year when the advertising rules change as Muslims fast during the daylight hours and look to spend their nights either with family or in prayer.

In keeping with reaching out to Muslims, advertisers need to be ever-aware of religious sensitivities. Brands often feel the need to make a change to their ads. One such change, which was spotted by Dubai-based communications professional Mohammed Kharroubi (Twitter handle @mkdubai), involved the retailer Carrefour. Spot the change below.

Brands sometimes get things horrendously wrong. Another retailer, the UK retailer Tesco, made a huge faux-pas, when they promoted smokey bacon-flavor Pringles as part of a Ramadan promotion. For those who don’t know, any pork-related products are considered haraam in Islam and are not consumed by Muslims. The below image went viral and has resulted in masses of media coverage in the UK.

Tesco has been pilloried on social media for selling smokey bacon-flavoured Pringles as part of a Ramadan promotion

Tesco has been pilloried on social media for selling smokey bacon-flavoured Pringles as part of a Ramadan promotion

And then, there’s the bizarre. According to Dubai-based marketing consultant Hussein Dajani, McDonalds has been running advertising for its breakfasts this month on the radio on Dubai. Unfortunately, Muslims fast during the day, and most of the McDonalds restaurants serving breakfast will be closed.

With Ramadan, it really does seem that while some brands are able to adapt and thrive, others need to do their homework. What are your thoughts? And do you have your own examples of successful and unsuccessful Ramadan advertising?

#HappyDubai and the times when you need a good community manager

If you were working on #HappyDubai would you view this image positively or negatively?

If you were working on #HappyDubai would you view this image and the associated Tweet positively or negatively?

First we had the successful #MyDubai initiative. Now, we have #HappyDubai which was launched last week by Dubai Municipality.

According to an article in Gulf News residents can now share positive experiences regarding municipal services through the Happy Dubai initiative. They can post comments and pictures using the #HappyDubai social media hashtag. The feedback will spread through Twitter (@myhappydubai) and the happydubai.ae website. The feel-good initiative, launched on Tuesday, aims to highlight civic services of the Dubai Municipality and feedback from stakeholders.

“With the Happiness Map, we are aiming to track conversations around #HappyDubai and where they are coming from. In time, it will become an interesting reference point to identify areas in Dubai that are the favourite #HappyDubai places for residents,” the municipality told Gulf News.

“This phase of the campaign allows residents to send us their comments and feedback through the website. Residents can also get in touch with us via other touch points including Dubai Municipality’s social media presence, our 24-hour contact number 800900, e-mail us at info@dm.gov.ae or visit our centres around the emirate.”

Here’s where it gets more complicated. The beauty of the #MyDubai campaign is that its objective – the public are asked to share their own experiences of Dubai, without a spin and without a filter. #HappyDubai is subjective, and one of the aims of the Happy Dubai campaign is to make Dubai one of top 10 happiest cities in world by 2021. Dubai’s residents are being asked to share their happiness with Dubai Municipality and the city in general. Rather than engaging in a dialogue, they’re being asked to take a specific emotional stance which is a much riskier strategy.

Hussain Nasser Lootah, director-general of Dubai Municipality, said: “Various initiatives and the projects adopted and executed by Dubai Municipality in different fields give the emirate its unique style which makes it ‘stand out’ among the most developed cities in the world.

“The UAE has been ranked 14th in the happiness index set by the Global Initiative of the UN. Our goal is to spread happiness among the population of UAE and by 2021, Dubai would like to be one of the top ten happiest cities.”

The worst thing that can happen is for the campaign to be hijacked. This isn’t new, and even brands such as McDonalds have had to pull campaigns due to consumers not reacting as they’d hoped (a great example is #McDStories).

There’s a lot to love about Dubai and the campaign launched by Dubai Municipality (the microsite is a great feature, especially the #HappyDubai map), but not everyone feels as strongly about #HappyDubai as the people behind the campaign. One “David Brown” tweeted repeatedly about the issue facing labourers in the Emirate with the hashtag #HappyDubai. See the below for one Tweet, including a link to a site about alleged human rights abuses in the GCC and the image Photoshopped with the #HappyDubai logo.

Could it get worse? Well, yes it could do if your community manager misunderstands the point being made and then retweets the original message. The follow-up is even worse (unless I’m missing the irony).

The lesson is simple. Before a campaign is even launched whoever handles social media needs to understand the various viewpoints that may be coming his or her way, both positive and negative (the same is also true of the whole organization). There should be talking points and message tracks in place for any negative sentiment. This is especially true of a campaign such as #HappyDubai which takes a subjective stance on people’s emotions towards a specific issue.

And more than anything else, if you can’t spot a negative comment and you work in social media, you need to find a new industry to work in.