Marketing

Clothing brand YP Threads apologises after sending customers email threatening to release “photos of you doing weird stuff”

Emma Koehn /

The founders of men’s fashion brand YP Threads say they have learned a lesson to “not just be in a bubble” when developing branding ideas, after copping backlash against an email they sent to customers claiming the company had photos of them doing “weird stuff” and these would be released unless they bought some shirts.

The founders of the Brisbane business, which was featured on Network Ten’s Shark Tank program two years ago, appeared on Triple J’s Hack program last night to say they got the messaging wrong and admit they failed to pay enough attention to the campaign, which was developed by a third-party agency.

The email, sent to thousands of customers on the brand’s email list, said, “We have photos of you doing weird stuff”, and included a mock threat to release these to schools and employers unless the shopper took up a sale deal. 

One customer told Hack he was very concerned about where the email had come from and said he “won’t be purchasing anything off them again” after the incident.

Company co-founder and chief executive Jake Kelder tells SmartCompany the fallout from the email has shown “we need to be more considerate”.

He admits the founders didn’t think enough about the potential customer reactions to the email; the three founders have been mates for years, he says, and the situation has made them re-think “not just being in a bubble”.

“We sent an apology, admitting what we had done, then we reached out to the affected parties and sent an update email,” he says.

The company also got some valuable help from a former YP Threads customer. A senior consultant at a big four firm got the initial email and the apology from the company, and then quickly replied to say he could see the brand would be in hot water and he could offer advice.

“He got in after the apology email, and he said, ‘I can see you guys are in trouble early on this’. I got on the phone with him,” Kelder says.

The founders have been up front in owning the mistake, getting on the front foot to discuss the process. Kelder says from here, the company will not be afraid to ask for help if they’re unsure whether a marketing message could be poorly received.

While the brand doesn’t want to be “boring”, Kelder says the company will now be running messages past as many eyeballs as possible. He says other companies can learn from their experience and do the same.

“I think maybe if there was something they [other brands] were unsure about, ask,’ Kelder says.

Ask “what could possibly go wrong?”

Branding expert Michel Hogan says companies often get in hot water when they fail to check the work of third party agencies, but ignorance is never an excuse when it comes to your brand.

“I don’t care who did what, the campaign is yours and you own it,” she says.

The buck stops with you. Because guess what? When it goes wrong, the agency aren’t the ones on the hook for angry customers.” 

Brands can also run into trouble when they sign off on cheeky or controversial campaigns without asking themselves whether the messages truly match up with how they would normally talk to customers, Hogan says.

What these guys stumbled into is the fact that when [your brand] starts masquerading something as something else, you are really standing on one foot on either side of the line that could go either way,” she says. 

She says while asking the question, “Does our brand stand for blackmailing customers”, as a joke may seem ridiculous, in this case the brand could have asked itself whether the email would really reflect the party vibe of the company.

There’s plenty of saucy content out there that doesn’t run into trouble. You should always be asking, ‘what could possibly go wrong?’ How might this be perceived?'” 

There’s nothing wrong with bringing on a third party to help you with your branding, but once you’ve done your research, the most important thing is to not just trust everything they say blindly, Hogan says.

“You can get caught up in the excitement of ideas, and people tend to get caught up in the bright, shiny objects. But you should think about [whether an idea will work] even if an idea only makes you just a teeny bit uncomfortable,” she says.

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Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is a former senior journalist at SmartCompany.

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