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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.
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:
Wow. #Emojinal is a masterclass on how to ruin a century-old upscale brand with one terrible social media campaign.— Holly Brockwell (@holly) February 1, 2016
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.
Can't decide if #Emojinal is a PR nightmare or a piece of strange PR genius.— Simon Brackenborough (@sbrackenborough) February 1, 2016
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?