UPDATE: Walkers has now apologised and promised to "shut down" the offensive activity. See statement at end of story.
The brand is running a multi-channel campaign ahead of the final of the UEFA Champions League, which takes place this weekend in Cardiff, with support from a variety of its agencies, including deVries SLAM PR.
This includes a Twitter competition in which users tweeting a picture of themselves with the hashtag #WalkersWave have their image automatically put into a video of Lineker congratulating them on "uniting with other fans".
A number of Twitter users have submitted images of criminals including Harold Shipman, Rolf Harris and Fred West (below).
Jailed former footballer Adam Johnson has also featured.
Other less unsavoury celebrities, such as former US vice president Joe Biden and ex-footballer Emile Heskey, also feature.
Some of the tweets have been retweeted hundreds of times, and the hashtag #WalkersWave was trending in the UK on Thursday afternoon.
Walkers has now deleted some of the tweets in question.
The campaign has come in for criticism:
#WalkersWave provides yet another valuable reminder to brands on why you should never let the Internet customise anything pic.twitter.com/WwaVdxqLUU
PR disaster incoming for walkers crisps #walkerswave has went disastrously wrong?? pic.twitter.com/0l5c8eeX0J— Craig Denholm (@CraigDenholm) May 25, 2017
#walkerswave Perfect example of a campaign that assumed people would behave sensibly, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.— Luke Burstow (@LukeBurstow) May 25, 2017
#walkerswave another example of brand campaigns being hi-jacked, live stream was risky, but I'm sure that people will continue to eat crisps— Sara Collinge (@SaraCollinge) May 25, 2017
Hi, I've just returned from a long lunch on my first day as Walkers Crisps' social media manager. What did I miss? #WalkersWave— Rupert Myers (@RupertMyers) May 25, 2017
#WalkersWave how did no one see this backfiring????????????— Olivares (@oli_parsnips) May 25, 2017
PRWeek has approached deVries SLAM, which won a new consumer comms brief with Walkers owner PepsiCo last year, for comment. It is not clear whether deVries or any other agency ran the Twitter compeition."
After publication of this story, a spokeswoman for Walkers sent the following statement: "We recognise people were offended by irresponsible and offensive posts by individuals, and we apologise. We are equally upset and have shut down all activity.
"We are sorry we had to close the promotion early. All valid entries submitted have been placed into a prize draw. The winners will be contacted directly."
Lineker later tweeted, cryptically:
Had an unusual day in some very strange company. I'm sure we'll wave goodbye to them all by tomorrow.— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) May 25, 2017
This article first appeared on PRWeek.