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We may never be sure what compelled House of Fraser (HoF) to completely abandon its brand identity and tweet a Snapchat-style picture of John Terry wearing a cartoon crown and holding a balloon. 

All we know is that it happened. It’s happening. And, despite what many people feared (or perhaps hoped), it’s not the work of hackers.

Somebody on House of Fraser’s social media team – perhaps a whole bunch of people – decided Kim Kardashian with an upside-down peach for buttocks was a sound way to market overpriced clothing to young people who can’t afford it anyway.

And it’s all in aid of HoF’s #Emojinal Valentine’s Day campaign. Get used to it, because it’s going to be running for another two weeks.  

Some of the tweets...

This is the tweet that prompted somebody to ask whether HoF’s account had been hacked.  

Here’s one celebrating Harry Styles’ birthday.  

And another of model Gigi Hadid holding a chicken: 

You get the picture. But my favourite one was when HoF seemingly forgot about the emoji thing altogether, remembered again, then failed to delete the fumbled first tweet.

house of fraser emoji twitter campaign

Why it’s weird

One of the strangest things about the campaign is how far removed it is from anything you would associate with the HoF tone of voice

It posted a number of football-related tweets, for example, taking advantage of the #DeadlineDay hashtag. 

I’m all for hashtag hijacking when it’s done properly. But jumping on something just because it’s there when it has absolutely nothing to do with your business? 

At best it’s a waste of time. At worst it’s polluting the internet with yet more useless, vacuous content and therefore damaging the integrity of your brand.

Another cringe-inducing aspect has been the way HoF has replied to the various criticisms with self-deprecating sad-face emojis. 

I get that it’s meant to be a joke, but it just comes across as kind of childish.

Again, not a problem in itself. I’m probably more childish than most actual children I know. But it just doesn’t seem right coming from HoF and could potentially alienate its core customers.

The timing is also somewhat ridiculous. It has been billed as a Valentine’s Day campaign (although you wouldn't be able to tell just by looking at the tweet content), yet we’re still two weeks away from that event. 

In the digital world things move fast. Really fast. To keep people engaged in a two-week-long Twitter campaign is almost unheard of.

I’d be amazed if people hadn’t already started ignoring it by the time you read this article. 

The only thing I can think of is that HoF has several more tricks up its sleeve and this was just a way to draw initial attention to the campaign. For the brand's sake I hope that’s the case. 

How people have reacted

Here’s what people have been saying about the campaign on Twitter:

But it wasn’t only individuals that had a dig. Fellow fashion retailer ASOS chimed in with a slightly patronising tweet (sadly now deleted), complete with classic Britney Gif.

Feel the burn.

Why HoF says it’s doing it 

The brand told City A.M. it’s testing out some marketing ideas ahead of Valentine’s Day, allegedly inspired by some Bangor University research claiming 18-25 year olds find it easier to express emotions through emojis than traditional human contact. 

Its Facebook and Twitter accounts will be overrun by this new house style for the next two weeks.  

A spokesperson for the brand said: 

We wanted to try something less traditional for Valentine's Day this year in order to engage with a younger audience.

While its reasoning sounds plausible, I’m not convinced most 18-25 year olds shop in HoF. Perhaps I’m just out of touch. 

Will HoF have the last laugh?

There is the age-old argument, of course, that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. 

Not everyone agrees with that sentiment, but if that was the thinking behind the campaign then it was unbelievably successful. 

Not only has the campaign been trending on Twitter all day, at the time of writing it has already received coverage in publications such as Mashable, City A.M. and The Huffington Post.

And here I am writing an article about it myself for the world's greatest digital marketing blog. 

Perhaps it really is nothing but a poorly thought-out campaign that has massively backfired. Or perhaps it’s a piece of social media marketing genius and we’re all just missing the point.  

What do you think?

Jack Simpson

Published 2 February, 2016 by Jack Simpson

Jack Simpson is a Writer at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

252 more posts from this author

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Christopher Ratcliff

Christopher Ratcliff, Editor at Methods Unsound / Search Engine Watch

Two goddamned weeks.

6 months ago

dan barker

dan barker, E-Business Consultant at Dan Barker

hiya, Jack. I think it's somewhere in between your 'genius or massive fail' poles: An experiment that has come across fairly damp. It won't have any real negative effect on HoF as a brand, or on their sales, so the big negative is really 'opportunity cost': ie - they could have put the time & money into something that worked better. I hope it doesn't stop them from pushing & trying things on social. HoF are a top performer across many, many areas in ecommerce & ecommerce marketing - their 'organic social' hasn't been as amazing as some of the others, and there is still an opportunity for them to make it so.

As an odd foot-note: they're still pushing it, but in a very apologetic way. May be best to either cut losses, figure out how to communicate it better, or to pause it for a week or so and run the remainder of 'emojinal' over a shorter period than originally planned.

Obvious caveat: I'm usually wrong about everything.

6 months ago

Ruth O'Brien

Ruth O'Brien, Senior PR and Social Media Consultant at Equator

I agree with you Jack, how many of these 18 - 25 year olds that were polled actually shop at HoF? They are at major risk of isolating the brand's long established customer base and the campaign reeks of desperation. It's very odd indeed.

I've been seeing a lot of "oh well it gets people talking, so it must be working". Contrary to the popular saying, not all publicity is good publicity! HoF has the kind of established brand that shouldn't need attention grabbing tactics to grab a few headlines in an attempt to generate sales - especially seeing as a large bulk of the brand's products are in the high-end/luxury end of the scale.

The campaign has been quite an embarrassing move by the brand, I expect the majority of interactions to have been generated by puzzled marketers commenting on the campaign. At least it's a fresh 'what not to do' example for everyone's next social media presentation.

6 months ago

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, CTO at Fresh Relevance

Good marketers have no choice but to take risks and push the envelope.

That's my theory anyway. Here's the science...

Multivariate testing doesn't work if all you do is try slightly different versions of the same old thing. The data you collect is limited to the region close to what you do now, so all you can
do is home in on a local maximum - probably missing a larger peak of improved marketing effectiveness that's a bit further away. So you have add more variety and test a bigger area.

6 months ago

Steve Hough

Steve Hough, eCommerce Manager, EMEA at WWRDSmall Business Multi-user

Either way it's interesting to see how an older brand is trying to interact with younger customers. The conversation has to start somehow/somewhere. Mistakes allow us to learn and this experiment will give the HoF some insight into how to approach their next campaign.

It also depends on the kpi's of the campaign too...I wonder how much their following has grown since the campaign versus the number of those unfollowing. Are they looking for an increase in engagement? If HoF's traditional customers aren't using Twitter then it's a good channel to attract a new customer (I'm guessing that this is just a Twitter only campaign?). Will their traditional customer be watching on Twitter - what is the make-up of their Twitter audience?

I guess we are looking from the outside in and making assumptions but like one of the Twitter comments mentioned, someone has had to get this campaign approved...I'm sure they have their reasons :)

6 months ago

Sarah Harradine

Sarah Harradine, SEO at Myprotein

I've always thought the discrepancy between their marketing and customer was weird - most of the customers I see the rare occasions I go into HOF are 40+ women. Whilst this campaign is shocking it doesn't shock me that they've done it - just another way for them to be mutton dressed as lamb, alienating their customer further

6 months ago

Ben Potter

Ben Potter, Commercial Director at LeapfroggSmall Business

It's like the old dinosaur marketeer in the corner has said 'we need to target the kids - I've heard they're really into these emoji things' and been let lose on their Twitter account. Very bizarre in my opinion.

6 months ago

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Jasper Wolley, Acount Executive at Saatchi & Saatchi

Considering I'm an 18-25 year old and just caught myself thinking "Hmm, I'm not sure I've seen the HoF website ... Let's have a look", I think the campaign is having an effect, even if it's not exactly the desired one.

6 months ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Jack,
Thanks for sharing your thought.
I'm with @danbarker on this - i say fair play for trying something new but i think the execution was a bit over zealous and there are more subtle ways to test new approaches rather than a full take over.
What i think marketers need is a little perspective. Just because research shows some of the younger audience relate better to emojis, you shouldn't assume they all do. Audiences based on age are very hard to pigeon hole, there are lots of variations in media needs and emotional triggers. It's why i weep when i hear the sentence, 'We're going to target millenials'.
So i think it was a good idea to test a new approach, just not visibly well executed, though the results may tell otherwise! As @jasper said, he's taken a look at the website as a result. I wonder how many others did too?
I'm not convinced it will do any meaningful brand damage. A brand reputation built over so many years doesn't fall apart through a hit & miss campaign. They've done nothing wrong and have a really good overall ecommerce operation, it's just a piece of marketing that divides opinion and sometime polarising an audience can have a positive impact, ironically.
Thanks
james

6 months ago

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