Mum’s first smartphone or a tale as old as time? House of Fraser’s #Emojinal campaign

This is my favourite time of year.

(Excluding the months during which it’s warmer and brighter than it is currently, of course.)

It’s that time of year when supermarkets get greedy, stick two fingers up to the chronological order of our calendars and awkwardly cram Valentine’s Day items next to Easter items, as if anyone, at the point when they realise that February is just a dreary 28-day extension of January, cares whether the chocolate that they put into their mouths, or anywhere frankly, is heart shaped or egg shaped.

Good news for those who have already given up on the preposterous and life-diminishing notion of giving up chocolate in 2016, bad news for Social Media Managers; everyone wants a campaign from you, and everyone wants it to be ‘different to the usual Valentine’s stuff’.

Imagine; you’ve just got your first big account managing social media for House of Fraser and everyone is expecting big things from you, but you haven’t been sleeping well because your room is too hot due to the fact that it’s unseasonably mild for this time of year and you can’t work out how to adjust the heating, and now you’ve woken up a bit congested and flu-y but everyone still wants an idea for the Valentine’s social media campaign and… Emojis. Emojis are your idea.

Everyone is excited; emojis will be something new for 167 year old House of Fraser and it’s all going to be fine and you’re going to finally get some sleep.

Except it’s not quite fine and the whole campaign ends up a bit ‘mum’s first smartphone’, a bit ‘dad buying stylish loungewear’, a bit ‘anyone over the age of 17 saying fleek, ironically or otherwise’.

If you’re not on Twitter, or just assumed that House of Fraser’s account had been hacked, did a ‘sucks to be them’ shrug and got on with your Monday then here are the York Notes on the situation; they launched a Valentine’s campaign called #Emojinal and the rest of Twitter laughed at them.

In a campaign that led many of House of Fraser’s Twitter followers to believe that the account had been hacked by the cutest and cuddliest hackers of all time, the department store started the week by tweeting using only emojis, kicking things off somewhat menacingly with this;

Screenshot 2016-02-03 at 2.00.53 PM
This continued for the rest of the day, broken up only by the odd emoji-stamped celebrity photo:

Screenshot 2016-02-03 at 2.04.35 PM

See? Odd.

House of Fraser tried to clarify the intentions of the campaign in a press release (seemingly sent to about seven people, none of whom shared the information on Twitter), explaining that #Emojinal is meant to be “a more humorous and fun approach to traditional Valentine’s sentimentality“. Social media followers will be asked to take an online quiz in which they will have to work out the titles of romantic comedies from a sequence of emojis, which in turn will help to crack a code that will then earn them a 10% off discount code. The campaign will also feature the depiction of famous love stories told, of course, through emojis, and started with the fairytale romance of Kate and Wills.

Thing is, no one knew any of that because the message of the campaign wasn’t explicit, and was never made so to those who were expected to engage with it, which seems like a big oversight in a campaign that is such a radical departure from House of Fraser’s traditional, long-established brand.

At the heart of it all, whether that heart is an emoji or not, is a real mismatch between who House of Fraser want to market to, who it is that they’re actually marketing to, what their message is and which media they’re using to get it across.

House of Fraser sits comfortably between Debenhams and Selfridges on the department store spectrum. It’s the first place your mum and aunts will suggest you look when you need something smart for a work thing, however #Emojinal suggests that they are turning their attentions to The Millennials. If so, that’s fine, but it’s going to take more than a Twitter campaign with a few emojis crowbar-ed into it to win them over. If not, then mums and aunts are a damn fine market, House of Fraser; not everyone can, or should, appeal to the latte-art loving Young People.

And so, because the foundation of who this campaign is actually aimed at is wobbly at best, the rest of the campaign sways freely in the ever-critical Twitter breeze.

Looking past the emoji (incidentally, that’s the name of a hard-hitting documentary coming to BBC3 soon), the content itself is a little weak and the narrative muddled. The copy is littered with painful, but safe, puns and tries to comment on topical celebrity news stories without actually saying anything at all, in what I am assuming is a careful attempt not to offend or irritate.  The choice of celebrity love stories is also a little irrelevant; for example, beginning the campaign with the Kate and Wills fairytale at a time when no one really cares about Kate and Wills (i.e a time when they have not just gotten married, or just released a photo of one of their son looking like he’s toddled out of a living museum) is a bit dated.

And, House of Fraser, if you’re going to set up some Crystal Maze style code cracking challenge then make sure that the payoff is closer to jumping around in a glass ball full of fluttering cash, rather than a lame 10% off code that barely covers the cost of delivery. It’s just not worth the effort.

Throw in the fact that Valentine’s day is still two weeks away and most of us are trying not to think about it, and the odds against this campaign proving to be successful really begin to stack up.

But before I emoji-hand slap this campaign to death completely, I do have to award House of Fraser five marketing points for doing something different. Or, doing ‘something’ full stop, as before #Emojinal they pretty much did nothing of any note on social media.

So, whilst the whole thing was undeniably off brand, and a bit of a flop all round, #Emojinal won’t harm House of Fraser in the long run and it did attract some new eyes, even if they are the kind of eyes that just like to watch a car crash play out in slow motion.

And when it comes to their theme of love stories, maybe House of Fraser inadvertently told the most original, enduring love story and the most Valentine’s-y message of all; the tale of ‘You Tried, It Didn’t Work Out’.

You spent your last £20 on the M&S Valentine’s meal deal, but end up crying as you try to scrape melted black plastic off the bottom of your boyfriend’s oven with a fish slice because you didn’t realise that you actually need to take the mash potato out of the little black tub and put it into an oven-proof container when cooking.

You tried, it didn’t work out.

After a string of successful dates you think that you might actually enquire about making official Valentine’s plans. You send a text. No reply. Even after you’ve turned your phone on and off. Twice. Even after you’ve put it under a cushion to stop yourself from checking it. Nothing.

You tried, it didn’t work out.

After months of battling butterflies everytime you look at each other, daydreaming about all of the exciting things that you’re going to do together and making a list of the magical places that you will travel to, you decide to fuck it, and take a chance on love, only for it to end abruptly, embarrassingly and painfully.

You tried, it didn’t work out.

Just remember, House of Fraser, that as with all love stories, there is hope. Hope that you can create entertaining content by taking the piss out of a rushed-out social media campaign. Hope that one day you can try again. Hope that when you inevitably bump into Them, you will look really, really hot.


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