Gunners social approach gets shot down

the infamous “bruised banana” kit

the infamous “bruised banana” kit

As an Arsenal fan there is not much to look forward to these days but that looked like changing when it was confirmed Adidas had bought the kit manufacturing rights for €350m over the next 5 years. It would be a return to the glory days of the early 1990’s and even the possibility of a return of the famous bruised banana kit.

Adidas did not disappoint with the launch video which as an Arsenal fan and also a marketing nerd was right up my street. I feel the strategy was bang on. It plays into the nostalgia of the old kits and gets the tone right in terms of the North London pride mixed with the now global reach of the brand. There are lovely little Easter eggs dropped into the video that fans just love including a nice cameo from Idris Elba which will play well with the global market.

The joy of being a football fan is that every season starts fresh. As the new season rolls around expectations start to rise and all of the failings from last year start to disappear. Here we go. The good feeling at the Adidas marketing as they cracked the launch must have been similar. And then just like a Mustafi howler on day 1 of the season it all came crashing down.  

Adidas (more accurately their marketing agency) had set up a system that would allow anyone to have their twitter username written on the back of the shirt, simply by liking a tweet. 

The account would automatically create an image of how such a shirt would look, as well as giving users a link to buy the personalised strip. But the feature was immediately hijacked by users with a variety of offensive names, using the automatic tweets from the @adidasUK handle to spread racism, sectarianism, homophobia and other manners of hate.

via @adidasuk Twitter before being deleted

via @adidasuk Twitter before being deleted

“Due to a small minority creating offensive versions of this we have immediately turned off the functionality and the Twitter team will be investigating,” a spokesperson said.  

Having worked on numerous personalization campaigns I know how much effort goes into ensuring that they cannot be hijacked or used with malicious intent. We have spent days and weeks screening offensive content and ensuring that our clients do not land themselves in this bother. It’s not glamorous but it makes a huge difference. 

For me, the issue here was the pure automation of the campaign. I find it difficult that the development team did not foresee this issue. At the very least just from opposing fans who wanted to engage in ‘banter’. It’s not too difficult to code the software to eliminate offensive words. This becomes tricky when there is a desire from the brand to eliminate words like ‘gay’ as it may be used to cause offence and then someone named ‘Gay’ would like their name on a personalized product. It’s a very sensitive are and needs to be handled very carefully. 

There are a few solutions that we have used to avoid major issues but ultimately, it’s about testing the software and mitigating as much risk as possible for our client. It’s about getting all the relevant stakeholders around the table in the first strategy meeting and flagging the issues early so the program can be built with this in mind or more concisely to follow the old Arsenal motto… Victoria Concordia Crescit (Victory Through Harmony). 


Jonny Davis