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Nestle tweets a joke about the 43 students missing and presumed dead in Mexico

They say that the key to good brand humor is the sweet spot between the benign and the totally inappropriate. So late Sunday night, @CrunchMX — the Mexican Twitter account for Nestle’s Crunch candy bar — made a go of it:

A los de Ayotzinapa les dieron Crunch,” the account tweeted, a little pun on its namesake candy bar. Translation? “They crunched those from Ayotzinapa.”

“Those from Ayotzinapa” being the 43 trainee teachers who were apparently abducted, killed, incinerated and ground up by a local drug gang in late September, and whose disappearance has sparked a national outcry.

Related: Outrage at likely Mexico massacre spreads to Acapulco

As far as social media mess-ups go, this one is a doozy. Nestle and the Crunch brand, in particular, have spent much of the past 24 hours apologizing and condemning the message — mostly in vain.

One problem is that it’s not entirely clear who’s responsible for the tweet: Nestle Mexico’s vice president of communication told CNN that the company contracts an outside marketing firm to handle that Twitter feed. Immediately after the Ayotzinapa tweet went up, someone from that marketing firm deleted it and tweeted an apology for the “bad joke.” Nestle later claimed, in a series of tweets (but not, mysteriously, in its official statement), that the account had been hacked.

Whatever happened, it’s almost not even news. Companies doing stupid things on Twitter, whether in the name of humor or some other idol, is less an exception than a norm these days. In fact, even as I write this, I imagine dozens of social media editors across the country are queueing up their branded Veterans Day tweets, the better to stake out an eensy, weensy corner of public attention on a day when such attention is reserved for people who have, you know, served in wars.

Read about Claro’s Twitter scandal in Costa Rica here: Telecom giant Claro (still) thinks sexist ‘jokes’ are good publicity

To be fair, accidents happen — even to massive corporations. In September, when DiGiorno Pizza tweeted a dreadful non-funny on the domestic violence hashtag #WhyIStayed, the poor, beleaguered sucker behind the account quickly explained that he or she hadn’t read the hashtag — it was all just a “flub,” an unintentional error.

But so many other major Twitter fails are 100 percent premeditated. In fact, they’re over-meditated and calculated, with the backfiring, faux-personal jokiness just an act to move a product or drive “engagement.” There’s even a traveling industry conference dedicated solely to the fine art/science of making brands funny — because “being funny can make people want to work with you and buy from you,” the FunnyBizz conference promises.

Alas, while FunnyBizz’s “engaging, entertaining & enlightening” speakers encourage their brands to “iterate” and “fail,” they do not specify what happens if your jokes end up being in stomach-turning bad taste. @CrunchMX appears to be learning that now: On Twitter and Facebook, consumers unconvinced by Nestle’s “hacking” line are calling for boycotts of the brand.

“Nestle is garbage,” reads one of the very few messages PG-enough to reprint here.

“They have no shame, making fun of the country’s pain,” another post reads. “Personally, thanks to all this, I won’t consume your junk any more.”

© 2014, The Washington Post

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