An Aussie online fashion brand has apologised for an email marketing stunt which has been described by some as “shocking” and “poor taste”.
YP Threads sent out an email telling those who received it that the brand had compromising photos of them from a party, and that it would share them “everywhere” unless they liked the YP Threads Facebook page and bought some clothing off its online store.
The email, which went out to 17,000 people, read something like this:
“Remember that party where you got totally shit-canned?
“I have the photos of you doing some really, really weird stuff. I’m holding it ransom.
“I’ll give it back, but only if you re-friend me on Facebook and buy some of my threads.
“If you don’t get back to me in 48 hours, the photos will be everywhere – at your work, at your school, under your pillow.”
According to Triple J’s Hack program, once the email recipients had followed YP Threads’ orders, the email said they would be provided with a map to retrieve the photos, ending with: “We know where you live. Time starts now.”
Now, for those of you unfamiliar with YP Threads, it’s basically a fashion brand created by blokes, for blokes, that specialises in party shirts, shorts and socks, and doesn’t take itself too seriously.
So the email, which came from an external marketing company, was supposed to be a joke.
However, Hack host Tom Tilley described the marketing ploy as “a shocking attempt at marketing and a shocking attempt at humour”.
One of the people who received the email and was interviewed by Hack said he was “freaked out” when he saw the email come through on his phone.
“I thought someone was trying to blackmail me,” he said.
The man, who is on a temporary contract with his employer, was worried the photos would be leaked to them and “land me in a bit of hot water”.
“I had to read through it two or three times just to make sure, and at that point I sort of realised and started to get a feeling of disbelief that someone was using this to try and sell party shirts,” he said.
“I just think it was poor taste. They don’t operate within a bubble.”
“I definitely won’t be purchasing anything off them moving forward.”
On a scale of how bad the marketing stunt was, Simon Bell, a professor of marketing at the University of Melbourne, rated it a solid seven out of 10, but said it could’ve been worse.
“Whether it falls flat or not often times can depend upon a brand’s tone of voice or at least how they’re positioned in the minds of consumers in their market,” he told Hack.
“Obviously they’ll be losing some customers at the margin, and then of course there’ll be some potential customers who will no longer consider trying them.
“There will be some impact on the business, but often times companies survive these controversial marketing efforts simply because of customer inertia.”
Speaking to Tilley, YP Threads co-founder Jaybor Staunton said that after looking at the email “in the broad light of day”, the brand sent out a follow-up apology email an hour later.
“It’s not ideal. We weren’t looking to go out there to be deliberately salacious or [with] any intent to be malicious or anything like that,” he said.
“It was a poor judge in character and a bit of an example of bad taste, really.
“But to hear it from a customer – we always say customer’s king – so it does grate a little bit. We want to make sure that they do know that we weren’t deliberately being malicious with it.
Co-founder Jake Kelder was equally as apologetic, but said the stunt had turned out in YP Threads’ favour in terms of sales.
“We did get a big spike in terms of traffic. A lot more open emails and sales as a result,” he said.
“The joke was made in bad taste, and we are truly sorry. It invoked bad memories for some people, and whilst that was never our intention, we take responsibility for that.”
Hack noted that the stunt is in fact not illegal, but could breach Section 2.6 of the Advertising Code of Practice (which concerns meeting community standards). However, it’s unlikely any action will be taken against YP Threads given how quick it was to apologise.
Another person who received the email told Hack they recognised it was fake, had a laugh, got the apology, “and didn’t really think twice of it”, and still plans to shop from YP threads.