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Itel Manchester United banter: PR Hit or Miss?

By Paul Agada
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In this time and age, it is common for brands to engage in football banter on social media to gain publicity, elicit engagement and appear cool to the young demographic that make up a large number of users.

While this may be a potent tactic, it is however pertinent for social media managers to consider their role as an extension of the Public Relations effort of a brand. As such, goodwill and reputation management must not be sacrificed on the altar of engagement or virality.

On this note, let’s take a cursory look at the recent football banter by the phone brand, Itel Nigeria, targeted at Manchester United fans. The tweet reads, “Itel is mid” – Someone that supports Manchester United.

"Itel is mid"- Someone that supports Manchester United

Before we dig deeper, let’s establish some background information about Itel and Manchester United. In 2019, Nigerian infopedia ranked Itel as the 8th most popular phone brand in Nigeria. Itel is generally regarded as a brand for low income earners who cannot afford higher ranked brands or more expensive phones.

Manchester United has one of the biggest fan bases in the world. At the time of writing, the club’s Twitter handle @ManUtd had 32.7 million followers, although we cannot determine what fraction of the club’s followers is from Nigeria. Nonetheless, we can assert that Manchester United’s fanbase is a big community on Twitter.

So, what does this mean? Any brand that attempts to banter this community is taking a big PR gamble that may yield either positive or negative sentiments. 

Now back to the tweet. From a social media manager’s perspective, it is a banger. It got 35, 100 likes, 8,017 retweets and 4, 0287. We can qualify it as a ‘viral tweet’. But, from a PR perspective, can we describe it as a success? Let’s find out!

Banter between United fan and twitter user

A cursory look at the top ranking comments under the tweet will reveal that it generated more negative sentiment for the brand than positive just like the one above. Although many tweeps found the banter funny, Manchester United fans on the other hand were having none of it. 

Banter between United fan and twitter user

Even the brand’s ambassador felt the banter was ill advised. 

United fan bashes Itel

Afterward, the social media handler proceeded to hide some negative comments that gained traction. This generated more backlash from irate Manchester United fans who found the banter insulting, while other tweeps berated the handler for hiding some comments.

It begs the question, was the banter a PR hit or miss? PR is primarily concerned with building a good reputation for a brand and goodwill with its public through strategic engagements, one of the tools that can be deployed is social media.

So, even though the brand got the publicity it craved, its reputation took a heavy battering in the process. Some have argued that “any kind of publicity is publicity”. However, that would contradict the basic principles of PR that harps on deliberacy, strategy and planning.

My Verdict

Itel’s Manchester United banter was a PR miss. Although the tweet went viral, it however amplified negative sentiments about its product being substandard.

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