CULTIVATING #CUPFUSION: AN EXPLORATION OF THE UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES OF COMMUNICATION IN A PUBLIC RELATIONS CAMPAIGN
Penn, Timothy Shaw
Toth, Elizabeth L
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This dissertation is an exploration into the application of Merton’s (1936) typology of the unanticipated consequences of purposeful social actions, to a public relations campaign. Merton gave consideration to using scientific analysis to understand factors leading to the unanticipated consequences of purposive actions, rather than attributing them to chance or fate. Four of his five factors, including lack of foreknowledge, habit, myopia, and values, have proved applicable to the public relations campaign examined in this case study. The case involves the 2016 Reese’s #Cupfusion campaign. When news of a new Reese’s product, Peanut Butter Cups stuffed with Reese’s Pieces, was leaked on Facebook, the brand manager at Reese’s and a small public relations team at Ketchum decided to “tease” the truth about the release of the product, rather than reveal the existence of the candy. Using qualitative methods, including in-depth interviews, organization-provided document analysis, and content analysis of the Reese’s brand Facebook page, this researcher found that by using innovative public relations strategies, combined with a proactive relationship management technique which used social media to cultivate an existing relationship with Reese’s fans on Facebook, the #Cupfusion team was able to cultivate an unintended “viral” outcome for their product roll-out. Merton’s typology of unintended consequences has application for public relations theory and practice. The concept of lack of foreknowledge has implications for both chaos and complexity theory, and how they can be applied to the digital environment and social media, including how organizations can respond to unintended consequences and crisis. This research also supports and adds to social media and strategic campaign planning practice, by providing a lens for the analysis and execution of both pre-implementation and evaluation of public relations campaigns.