Hashtag hijacking and the need for authenticity – the #EtisalatChallenge

Let’s face it, social media is entertaining. As communicators, we really do need to think through the consequences of using digital. But sometimes, the best of intentions just aren’t enough. Companies who don’t think through the reasoning behind their campaigns will face a backlash online, including derision, contempt, and abuse.

There are many examples globally of hashtag hijacking; possibly the best is McDonalds and its #McStories campaign. Fortunately for us in the Middle East, we now have our own example of how not to launch a hashtag on Twitter. A couple of days back the Abu Dhabi-based telecommunications operator launched an advertising campaign called the #EtisalatChallenge. The idea is simple enough – Etisalat challenges consumers to find offers and prices that are better than their own and they’ll match or beat that offer. You will literally see the below advert everywhere across the UAE at the moment.

Are you ready for the #EtisalatChallenge?

Are you ready for the #EtisalatChallenge?

Now, there’s a couple of issues here. The first is pretty basic; the UAE’s telco market is a duopoly. Both operators are government-owned and there’s not much in the way of competition when compared to other. The second is Etisalat’s reputation. The company isn’t the most consumer-friendly in terms of its support. Shortly after Etisalat launched its hashtag #EtisalatChallenge (complete with a huge marketing campaign), the hashtag itself was taken over by customers complaining about high costs and poor service.

Despite the obvious backfiring of the campaign (and, as you can see from the tweets below, the campaign has been taken over by negative sentiment), Etisalat has persevered with the #EtisalatChallenge.

What’s even stranger is the number of bots, of Twitter accounts which are automated which have are now tweeting the same message about the campaign.

The other element of the campaign which is intriguing is the number of celebrities that Etisalat has brought in. There is one of Scotland’s finest, Gerald Butler, Bollywood actor Hrithik Roshan, and Filipina actress and singer Lea Salonga. Etisalat has also paid a number of the UAE’s leading social media influencers. While the use of social media influencers to support marketing campaigns is becoming standard practice, the #EtisalatChallenge in unusual in that many of the influencers have previously worked for the UAE’s rival operator Du. Have a look below.

Emirati social media celebrity Mthayel Al Ali was a Du supporter

Emirati social media celebrity Mthayel Al Ali was a Du supporter

But now Emirati social media celebrity Mthayel Al Ali is also an Etisalat fan

But now Emirati social media celebrity Mthayel Al Ali is also an Etisalat fan

Egyptian footballer and model Sherif Fayed was part of Du's marketing before his switch to Etisalat

Egyptian footballer and model Sherif Fayed was part of Du’s marketing before his switch to Etisalat

Egyptian footballer and model Sherif Fayed is also a fan of green as he shifts to #EtisalatChallenge

Egyptian footballer and model Sherif Fayed is also a fan of green as he shifts to #EtisalatChallenge

Before her support for the #EtisalatChallenge UAE media personality Diala Ali was a Du supporter.

Before her support for the #EtisalatChallenge UAE media personality Diala Ali was a Du supporter.

From blue to green - UAE media personality Diala Ali shows her support for the #Etisalat Challenge

From blue to green – UAE media personality Diala Ali shows her support for the #Etisalat Challenge

While one can easily fault Etisalat for getting out the cash and spending a fortune on social media endorsements, these online influencers are more to blame in my eyes. They’re doing their own brands more harm than good by changing from one corporate brand to the other so quickly. Their authenticity is at stake, and for someone who runs a social media agency Mthayel Al Ali should understand that authenticity matters to fans, and fans are the reason these people are paid to endorse brands. There’s little long-term thinking from influencers who have worked with Du previously and whom are now working with Etisalat.

Going beyond the pains of creating corporate hashtags (which, in this case clearly don’t work), what was Etisalat thinking? And what is it still thinking, seeing as the campaign is failing so badly? Come on, share with me your #EtisalatChallenge!

12 thoughts on “Hashtag hijacking and the need for authenticity – the #EtisalatChallenge

  1. Pingback: #EtisalatChallenge – A Case Study In Poor Foresight | Beneath The Froth

  2. Hi Alex,

    As always, it was a pleasure reading your blog. What amazes me is that you observed influencers switching between the 2 brands in the their advertisements. Though it’s just 2 brands to look into, that was quite an observant eye that you deployed for this. 🙂

    On a side-note, I should mention that I’ve been greatly inspired by your style of blogging, no less the content. When I wrote, my first blog entry for 2015, I took some leads on your style – adding relevant quotes, images and videos to make the blog more intuitive. Your blog also taught be to lay my points with more clarity and structure, and present my personal views without jumbling it up with the main story. (link – http://wp.me/p3RKpp-5Z)

    I look forward to reading and learning more from your work.

    Thanks and best wishes to you!

      • That’s extremely encouraging, Alex. Wouldn’t have imagined getting this review from you when I first started following your blog. I really appreciate it.

        Will certainly write more and hopefully garner your feedback and review if possible. Thanks a ton!

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