What Not To Do On Twitter: Durex Tweets Hugely Offensive Joke, Blames Local PR Agency

There are so many lessons in what to do – and in this case, what not to do – in social media that case studies can begin to blend into one another. But this particular Twitter fumble from Durex stands out as one so supremely tone deaf, offensive and insensitive that it just has to be pointed out.

As much as I prefer to see positive and successful Twitter campaigns, there are those that fail that still offer some teachable moments. And this is one of them.

The Durex Twitter account for South Africa (@DurexSA) had been running a campaign based on the hashtag #durexjoke. From time to time they would tweet out sex jokes, and retweet some of their followers’ responses.

But as Business Insider reports, their latest joke went horribly, horribly wrong.

Over the weekend, @DurexSA tweeted the following “joke” (screenshot courtesy of Memeburn):

As you’d expect, this tweet – which many saw as joking about rape – saw instant and horrified response from many of Durex’s followers. Eventually, a local women’s activist group, FeministSA, got wind of the tweet and led a campaign against the condom company, issuing complaints and starting a boycott.

And here’s our first teachable moment: react immediately to a social media faux pas, and react with grace. Something Durex did not do.

Rather than immediately retracting the offensive tweet and issuing an apology, here is the response that Durex sent to FeministSA:

“We have posted many jokes, see our timeline… And they not violent against woman! Re-read it!!!!!”

Although that (semi-illiterate) response (and the initial “joke” tweet) has since been deleted, going on the defensive is not a good idea when your brand has just associated itself with a lighthearted stance towards rape.

It took several hours before Durex took FeministsSA and its supporters seriously and eventually owned up to its distasteful tweet. The company did tweet several apologies, including the one below:

But the brand had already lost a serious chunk of its credibility by dismissing the issue and claiming that their other jokes were “not violent against women”, a statement apparently meant to justify the offensive joke.

And a second teachable moment from this whole mess: don’t pass the buck when it comes to social media.

Of course, big brands use public relations and marketing agencies in many cases to run their Twitter accounts and manage their Facebook pages. That’s common knowledge. But when one of those agencies messes up, people don’t care – they only see the brand.

Durex tried to pass the buck to its local PR agency, Euro RSCG. They added a block of text to their Twitter background, pointing the finger at their agency:

This response rings hollow. Either the agency made such a huge mistake that it deserved to be fired, in which case publicly naming and shaming them might be in order, or else they made a small mistake and pointing fingers is just an act of a brand desperate to shift blame onto another entity. Since there is no news about Durex firing Euro RSCG, I’m going to assume it’s the latter.

Of course, it is likely the agency’s fault. However, a brand will always be the face of its own Twitter account, even if it hands over the reigns to a third party (and that third party goes on to tweet some very immature, sexist and demeaning “jokes”). So by deflecting the blame but keeping the agency on, Durex has weakened its position as an authentic brand on Twitter.

When responding to criticism or public outcry on social media, it is important to be honest. Take responsibility, issue an apology, and learn from your mistakes. This Durex flub will hopefully not only inform the company’s future tweets, but other business’s as well.

(Top image: SCOTTCHAN via Shutterstock;Hat tip: Business Insider)