Haters or marketing?

I know there are more important things going on, but I’ve already done most of the digging on this because it’s the sort of thing I enjoy and I’ve been accused of taking a deliberately contrary position just for the sake of it. the reason for this accusation was because I suggested that the whole Over weight haters incident could have been a hoax for publicity purposes. I wasn’t alone in thinking this and Rosa Mundi has a very good article on some of the reasons why it seems likely it’s a scam. Much of what I’m going to say I already said in comments on that article but, as I like that sort of thing, I want to go into it in a bit more detail.

The comment that got me into trouble was along these lines:
A few nasty cards – £5
Giving away clothes – £500 (less as that’s presumably retail cost)
A few nice cards – £25
People to hand out both – £200
A domain name and website – £20 (probably more as companies always pay more than they need to)
Loads of media coverage and positive publicity – priceless?

Yeah cynical, but read Rosa Mundi’s article. I’ll now present my own arguments which in the first case are mainly just a repetition of that. For all the noise about “passengers” being given those “cards” I can only find a single picture of a single card and it seems only two people have actually reported getting them. If this was some sort of haters campaign then if other people had received such cards you’d have expected at least a few more to have surfaced. So what it looks like is that we have one of two choices here:
1) It was some lone idiot being nasty and a retail firm with a really on the ball PR team
2) A cynical PR team of a retail firm staging the whole event to get a load of good publicity on the cheap.

I shall leave that argument there as Rosa Mundi has already covered it, I’ll now instead expand on the bit of digging I did which I posted on the comments to that article. Here’s a time line for the day:

  • 1.02 pm : Well known author Sean Thomas Knox ( a.k.a S.K Termayne) tweets that he’s just seen someone being given a nasty card that reduced them to tears
  • 2.18 pm : Navabi ( a plus size fashion retailer) Retweet offering free clothes to the victim
  • 3:21 pm : Navabi tweet the design of the cards they’re getting printed to hand out around Oxford circus
  • 4:36 pm : Navabi tweet a picture of the printed cards
  • 4:44 pm: Navabi tweet that they’re handing the cards out
  • 00:00 am : Someone registers Overweighthaters.com on behalf of Navabi
  • 00:16 am : A WordPress based website is up and running:
    Overwight wordpress 00:16
  • 01:23 am : graphics for the main page of the site are uploaded (judging by “last modified” HTTP header)
    Overwight HTTP headers

All of those time frames are quite plausible with an on the ball team, and that someone well-known would see something happening on a London tube is really quite likely (unless you’re pushed under a train at Kentish Town). But it would also be a very easy thing to set up and have waiting in the wings to roll out. In these days of viral marketing, even if you’re just capitalizing on events it’s a good campaign, and I think it’s slick enough to be a little bit wary of taking things at face value. As to the claim that the haters forgot to register “their domain” well there’s no URL, twitter handle or anything on that card, the Navabi PR team merely grabbed the most likely one. Which also does raise the question of what troll wouldn’t want to see their handiwork?

However here’s where to my mind it get’s really interesting, Navabi are a German company, registered in Germany (which means they pay no UK tax by the way) and as far as I have been able to find out have no offices or presence in London. The lack of a London presence makes that time line a little bit more interesting. So having a slight professional interest in such matters I took a look at the domain name details to see who had registered overweighthaters.com and when. The when is in the time line but it was registered by a chap called “Dan Barker” on behalf of Navabi and he gives his address as being in Sheffield – which would make those time lines even more interesting. He could of course have just happened to be in London and got the domain when he got home, or be Navabi’s go to guy for PR and was called by someone in London. One thing for sure is he isn’t the person that usually registers domains on behalf of Navabi, that’s normally done directly from head office.

This made me wonder just who is Dan Barker, wel a bit of googling turns out he’s an “expert” in “user journeys”, SEO and internet marketing. From his Linkedin profile he’s an independent business consultant who works with website owners and has this admirable goal:
” Usually the broadest objectives behind my work are to ‘make more money’ or ‘reduce costs’ for companies, but they can cover any other business goal.”
From his twitter he’s apparently in London and Sheffield which would be handy and he did a good job of re-tweeting the Navabi tweets relating to their feel good cards, he does seem to have tweeted with them before.

None of which of course proves it’s a hoax and I’d never suggest that anyone involved in Navabi’s PR team and websites would ever be in any way involved in handing out such unpleasant cards purely for a marketing stunt. It is though fascinating what connections you can find from public information on the internet. I’m sure this was just an on the ball PR team doing their best with the aid of Mr Barker to turn around a horrible situation they had no involvement with; it will I’m sure make a fantastic case study at the next #EcomChat meet up. For myself – I still remain very much unconvinced that the original card was part of any sort of campaign rather than a lone idiot; shame that TFL haven’t been able to find CTV footage of him.

Update: It seems I was wrong and Navabi do (or did) in fact have a London office according to Crunchbase – it seems it’s in Islington. How much difference that makes to the points above I shall leave up to you.

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