Recently Haaretz, the Israeli liberal newspaper, decided to run a contest for their readers. To coincide with the opening of the Maccabiah Games they wanted people to take a photo of an ‘Israeli moment’ and the winners could win a medal. In order to qualify the photo would have to be include the hashtag #IsraelMint or #IsraeliMoment. Simple. Or….not.

Photo contests like this are often very popular. People truly love taking pictures and it has been long known that pictures are the most viral and easily sharable content. Here at TSM we often push our clients to include pictures in their social media strategy because they have the best engagement rate. Contests such as this are often very popular with users and provided a well needed boost to any brand. However for some ‘controversial’ brands what sounds like a fantastic idea in a pitch meeting can often backfire incredibly.

The Haaretz social media committee were thinking that they would be getting some photos like this:

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These photos present a beautiful side of Israel and would make it a popular tourist destination. Whilst the campaign did receive these photos they were also competing with photos like this:

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These photos show a side that Israel most likely didn’t want highlighted. Included in the hashtag were a number of photos of dead or dying children presumably killed by IDF forces (though these are often unconfirmed and up for debate). The pro-Palestinian activists decided to ‘trendjack’ the hashtag for their own purposes. So now whenever anyone looks up the IsraliMoment hashtag they will come face to face with these pictures.

Israel has recently gone on a substantial PR drive nicknamed ‘Brand Israel’ in which the State has attempted to combat the negative press that their conflict with the Palestinians brings. They have begun to emphasise Israel’s role in technology (such as the recently acquired mapping software Waze), their beautiful beaches (and along with that their beautiful women) and their open and tolerant attitude towards homosexuals (Israel is the only country in the region which openly accepts homosexual and a great deal of Arab and Palestinian homosexuals flee to Israel to avoid persecution). Their entire campaign can be summed up in this recently released advert:

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The ad sums up the Brand Israel campaign perfectly: Israel is more than just a conflict….it’s also an economic powerhouse and has Bar Rafaeli. As rebranding campaigns go…it’s a pretty good one.

But major brands such as Israel, McDonalds or Nike are always sure to receive a disproportionate amount of negative responses from whatever social media campaign that they create. Smaller brands or brands which have a better rapport with their customers can often see great dividends with whatever social media campaign they choose to run. The larger brands have got to be very careful not to make it too easy for activists or humorists to hijack because sometimes you won’t want some pictures going viral.