Unless you’re a West Ham fan like me, or perhaps a fan of Bristol City, you may well have been oblivious to what was going on on Twitter on the afternoon of Thursday 26th October 2017. It was a brand horror story appropriate for the time of year, played out in a very public forum, the like of which will cause nightmares for years to come.
The EFL Cup, otherwise known as the Carabao Cup, is far from being the most illustrious football competition in the UK. The Premier League has become so powerful in recent years that even the FA Cup has lost its magic, leaving little passion remaining for what has previously been known as the Milk Cup, the Rumbelows Cup, the Coca-Cola Cup and the Carling Cup.
The big six – Manchesters City and United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham – don’t really care much about the EFL Cup, seemingly. They give a run-out to the lesser-used members of their squad, or like Spurs they stop trying after half time. But for the smaller clubs it represents probably their most realistic chance of silverware so is taken a little more seriously.
The EFL and Carabao, the sponsors, had announced that the draw for the quarter finals – featuring four of the big six – would take place at 4pm, livestreamed on Twitter. An unusual but potentially good move, as it is more regular for the draw to take place immediately after the last game of the previous round is completed when a large chunk of the potential audience would be heading to bed.
However, this was the competition’s chance to grab some headlines and get itself in the spotlight for once. And it did just that, but not for the right reasons.
Carabao (It’s an energy drink by the way, in fact according to Wikipedia it’s “Thailand’s second most popular energy drink”) had hired Phil Tufnell and Matt Dawson, team captains from BBC favourite A Question Of Sport to do the draw. While Daws and Tuffers can’t exactly be described as ‘football players’, they are both former sports professionals that many of us would recognise. But as the duo took selfies in the studio, it became clear that something had gone wrong.
After what might have felt like an age for any fans of clubs that actually care about what is described as “an annual knockout football competition in men’s domestic English football”, we were told that a problem at Twitter HQ had caused a delay. More than an hour after the draw was meant to take place, we were told that it would happen “as soon as is practically possible”. It finally happened one hour and a half late.
So here lies the lesson for brands – beware the calamitous balls-ups that can reflect badly on you yet are entirely out of your hands. Carabao, a brand that many people may not be familiar with, could now be tainted with an association of failure.
Some time in the future we may yet learn that there was a spike in sales for Carabao at the end of October 2017. There was certainly a slight surge in searches asking “what is Carabao”, according to Google, beginning a few minutes after the draw had been due to take place, but no greater than the number of searches a couple of days beforehand, when the games were actually being played.
But if there ever was an incident to illustrate the truth in the old axiom “not all publicity is good publicity” then this is it. High-profile failures can be very damaging for brands, and while Twitter (and to a lesser degree the EFL) have absorbed their share of criticism over the past few years, Carabao can ill afford such an incident. In UK terms, it’s a nascent company and exists in a crowded market, dominated by mega-brand Red Bull. It needs all the help it can get so this is undoubtedly a setback.
The good news, though, is that Carabao can come back from this. Twitter has accepted the blame for the incident and the EFL has publicly stressed that Carabao had nothing to do with the technical failures that caused the embarrassment. The best thing for the Carabao to do now is to show it has a sense of humour about the whole affair, accept that it will be the butt of a few jokes but also engage with the fanbase that it is trying to tap into.
After all, football fans generally have a good sense of humour – that’s why Paddy Power has been so successful, especially through social channels, with this demographic. This might not have seemed like a laughing matter at the time, but it also wasn’t the end of the world. Laugh it off, embrace the banter, and move on.