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Three UK’s guerrilla marketing strategy backfires

3 UK Henry 8 phone

Challenger brands need to try harder to get noticed, but this approach can sometimes backfire, as Three UK found out this week.

Three is hoping to build on its #PhonesAreGood campaign, launched in October last year, that took a tongue-in-cheek look at all the negative press around smartphone addiction by imagining some historical scenarios that would have been changed for the better with the involvement of a smartphone.

One of those scenarios concerned King Henry the Eighth, who notoriously got through six wives by the time he called it a day. The joke is that if he’d had some kind of dating app at the time he might have been able to make up his mind about them prior to marriage and thus a couple of them could have been spared the chop.

In the build up to Valentine’s Day some bright spark in Three UK’s marketing department thought it might be a laugh to promote this part of the campaign with a tweet entitled ‘Shag, marry or behead’. This was presumably a nod to the ‘kiss, marry, kill’ game and maybe even the phrase used by history students to remember what happened to Henry’s wives: ‘Divorced, beheaded, died; Divorced beheaded survived’.

Now you don’t have to be the most committed social justice warrior to know that Twitter is not the place for nuance or humour and anything that can be taken offence to will be. While the tweet was clearly a joke, there was always the possibility that it could be perceived as some kind of trivialising or even endorsement of domestic violence by someone.

That someone was apparently mumsnet member Jeanhatchet, who flagged up the tweet on the site’s forum. “The 3 mobile network are laughing at domestic homicide in this tweet, Jeanhatchet wrote. “In many of the women killed as a result of intimate partner violence blunt force trauma to or being stabbed in the head is a feature.

“The most worrying thing is …. how did this marketing meeting go? What views were expressed about killing women? How that was funny and would sell more contracts and phones? Imagine those men who sanctioned this and how common their views are that it never registered as a marketing disaster? https://twitter.com/threeuk/status/1095740892919541761?s=21” Three seems to have taken down the offending tweet by here’s a screenshot of it courtesy of Jeanhatchet. Google is also still acknowledging the original tweet.

3 UK deleted tweet

 

3 UK deleted tweet Google

That was enough for the Manchester Evening News to get involved, which committed not one but two dogged hacks to the job of writing up this mumsnet post and the rest of the claimed ‘flurry of complaints’ around Three’s tweet. Even their combined efforts weren’t enough to ensure the faithful representation of the discussion thread they were copying-and-pasting, however, with one of Jeanhatchet’s early comments wrongly attributed to  Lolkittens5, to whom she was responding.

Hot on their heels was Labour MP James Frith, who apparently spent most of yesterday working himself up in to an impressive froth of righteous indignation. “This is a disgraceful ad,” he opened. “Misogynistic and violent towards women. The disgrace of it. I hope you’re fined big time for this with proceeds sent to women’s refuges. Utterly shameful @ThreeUK”

Three, of course, tried the standard ‘we are sorry for any offence caused’ defence but, as is nearly always the case, it was too little too late. Apparently emboldened by the 30 likes and four retweets his initial Twitter salvo received Frith doubled down, including the textbook move of calling for an apology and then rejecting it when it was made. He concluded by vowing to grass Three up to the ASA before wrapping up his busy day by retweeting a story about how great his constituency is.

Unperturbed Three announced a new marketing initiative today around London Fashion Week. It’s claiming to have launched the world’s first 5G mixed reality catwalk, It ‘uses innovative start up Rewind and its Magic Leap mixed reality technology alongside Three’s 5G network, which will see the designer’s inspirations come to life on the catwalk,’ according to the press release.

Somehow this involves the son of singer Liam Gallagher and actress Patsy Kensit, who is apparently a world-renowned model and, as you can see below, has inherited his father’s petulant resting face. Perhaps this is intended to distract from Three’s rather weak 5G claims, with vague talk of IoT and AR the only substantiation offered.

3 UK Lennon Gallagher

“Today we are turning up the volume on 5G and bringing it to life for the first time in the UK, right here in the heart of the fashion world,” said Shadi Halliwell, chief marketing officer at Three. “By giving students access to the next generation of mobile technology, they will be able to push the boundaries of learning, innovation and sustainability to create in a way that’s never been possible.”

Halliwell, who presumably signed-off on the problematic tweet, will be hoping this new initiative will be free from controversy, or maybe not. It’s possible that the tweet was made in the hope of a bit of viral exposure, but that seems unlikely when you consider how quickly it was deleted. One thing, at least, Three will have gained from the experience is the knowledge that guerrilla marketing is a very high-risk strategy these days.

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