Just prior to the Superbowl, McDonald’s revealed a teaser for a campaign that had many scratching their heads. A 30-second spot that appeared mysteriously and without warning on their Facebook page, the ad showed real customers in real stores that were equally confused when told of their order total at the checkout line.

Turns out McDonald’s was introducing a whole new way to pay: Pay With Lovin’, where randomly chosen customers who adheres to the cashier’s wishes – a high five, a hug, anything goes – would receive their meal free-of-charge.

On the surface, this was a great idea that aims to boost the company’s public image, which had deteriorated over the years after bouts of bad publicity stemming from questions about the food’s ingredients. A second spot, which coupled social media with the Superbowl, showed the ideals of the campaign: customers who paid with lovin’ laughed, danced, cried in a good-feeling, inspiring sort of a way. It generated

However, the campaign seemed to have struck a negative cord when executed in real-life.

According to the Wall Street Journal, McDonald’s “caught off guard quite a few of the more than a million patrons asked to participate.” 32-year-old Jennifer Wilson, who experienced Pay With Lovin’ at a store in Memphis, only wanted a simple breakfast sandwich – without the fuss.

“I went in for breakfast in a hooded sweatshirt,” Wilson told The Wall Street Journal, “I hadn’t showered. I wasn’t expecting to see anyone, and of course I had to turn around and tell all these strangers to have a good day.”

Overall, the customer sentiment seemed to have been this: Pay With Lovin’ was awkward and intrusive in practice. Some even flat out refused the cashiers’ request, and handed over money instead. With 14,350 restaurants participating at a revenue forgoing $560 per restaurant, McDonald’s spent over $8 million on this campaign – not counting (expensive) ads that ran promoting it.

And it doesn’t seem like the campaign did a whole lot to drive overall brand image. While it did help increase the number of people talking about the company from 26 per cent to 29 per cent (YouGov BrandIndex), the brand itself was still relatively neutral in the minds of its consumers, with a score varying from -1 to 3 on a scale of -100 to 100 on the Index’s Buzz.

It’s hard to gauge how the campaign will affect February sales, though according to the Consumerist, based on its effect on brand image, the campaign is unfortunately unlikely to have a deep impact on revenue.

In short, despite the positive social media buzz generated, the impracticality of Pay With Lovin’ was the downfall of the whole operation. This bags the question: does social media always work in driving up sales?