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Could BK’s #MyWishAt50 Campaign Be The ‘Brand Gaffe’ Of The Year?


Corporate firms are known for being exceptionally sensitive and always ponder every advertising campaign before releasing it so that it does not harm their brand. It turns out that, Bank of Kigali, which takes pride in its Rwandan roots and heritage, could have not pondered on their recent campaign which could be regarded as their greatest brand gaffe ever. Fortunately, may be not, the Bank has managed to go away with it.

It all began with the Bank’s excitement of celebrating its 50th anniversary. A gigantic cake worth Frw600,000, we are told, was cut by the Bank’s Chairman Marc Holtzman and the Managing Director Dr. Diane Karusisi in the banking hall at the Headquarters.

The whole exercise was flamboyant. The Managing Director reach out to the clients and hand everyone a piece of the delicious cake. In its branches across the country, a cake had been cut and shared with clients and invited partners. Clients had never experienced such a thing.

For many, this was deservedly a brilliant stunt, not until weeks later when the Bank stumbled on its feet and made a terrible blunder.

It was on a Friday evening, February 10 to be precise, and Bank of Kigali clicked send. The Bank launched a social media campaign dubbed #MyWishAt50. This is how the bank explained it. Make a wish, on Twitter and Facebook, then tag Bank of Kigali with a hash-tag #MyWishAt50. Then, “Ask your friends [followers] to support your wish by liking it, be among fifty most popular wishes and wishes and we’ll certainly help…”

And the Tweets never disappointed. Social media junkies grabbed it from the word go. Tweets jammed the platform. Wishes of all kinds were made through out until the bank closed the “wishing campaign” fourteen days later.

Some participants in the campaign wished to win money to pay for education. Others preferred beautiful girlfriends or husbands. “I am Jones Thelegend my, wish is to own a BIG house with a BIG garden in few days’’, “I am Streetkidsfndt: “My wish is to have all street children in Rwanda being cared for and to have a better life.”

The wish list went on: “My wish is for all the followers …to like my wish so that I can meet @PaulKagame for just a handshake…” Another one read: “@BankofKigali provide 300 beehives to 85 women in Gakenke, to impact their lives [and] increase production [and] better quality of honey…”

Some wishes made sense, like this one: Sandra who works at Bourbon Coffee wished to for “a big house in town and a nice car”, but made it funny when she added “ a good husband.”

Now, there were wishes that aroused emotions such as this: “#MyWishAt50 is for my brother @jabz01 to get the right PROSTHESIS this year.

And this: “Please support my mom [and] I to replace asbestos sheets without a loan. I would love her to enjoy pension in a lovely home.” Then this: #MyWishAt50 is for @BankofKigali to sponsor a house for Marembo Centre, which works with street girls victim of domestic and sexual violence.”

Many more wishes for social projects such as one for a cancer awareness and treatment center, also those for houses and cars for poor hardworking parents, kept trickling in.

As the days drew closer to the closing date, the campaign became flippant. Some wishes became buffoonery; an indication the public had began doubting if Bk was serious with the campaign.  For example: “@BankofKigali what if I just want to own the helicopter?” And this one: “Bank of Kigali, my Chiquito I wish for a valentines date #MyWishAt50”.

At some point, The Service Mag, a popular publication that focuses on service delivery, chipped in. It said, “Our #Mywishat50 is to see this new/young/energetic team of @BankofKigali show that it is possible to wish for something they can make happen.”

Seemingly, the bank paid social media influencers to push the campaign. Others were benevolent fans, who tweeted for free praising the campaign. See this: “We haven’t had anything of this sort on social media in Rwanda.”

Others felt sorry for other banks in Kigali, and then BK began spotting the mockery in the flow of several wishes and the worry of a potential ‘brand damage’ the campaign could cause.

Although some Twitterverse defended the bank saying by the time they floated the campaign they had something planned, the bank tweeted back and said, “Your wishes aren’t just wishes. They’re voices of real People. We’ll be contacting some of you. To learn more about your wishes.”

We asked PR experts to help us dissect the Dos and Don’ts of this campaign. “This campaign is superficially nice, nothing more or less,” says one David who preferred his full name not to be disclosed for fear of losing his client for his views.

He explained three points. One: “There is no value is in this campaign. Has or will it increase the number of clients? I don’t think so.” Two: “There is no message in it. Was the bank communicating anything? I don’t think so.” Three: “There is no particular targeted audience. What market segment was the bank targeting? Everyone with a Twitter or Facebook account? It was too vague and a waste of time and resources.”

David told us BK is as lucky as it is for being reckless and going away with it. And his explanation was this: “This is a listed company mind you,” he says. “Such a firm cannot be making such mistakes, it is joking and misusing shareholders money. What if someone wished for a million dollar and happens to get a million or more likes, beating other wishes? Would BK give him or her the money? Where would the value or return on such investment be?”

It turns out that, indeed someone made close to such a wish of asking for a huge some of money, unfortunately he phrased his wish vaguely and got only two Retweets and four Likes: #MyWishAt50 is to two or three more zero added to the amount in my account.”

Even when the economy is stable, which it isn’t, there can never be money for throwing around, at least for a listed company with shareholders to protect.

The brand gaffe aside, the Bank also narrowly survived putting itself into a national-wide predicament. It almost dug itself a grave by excluding the largest majority of the population that does not have access to internet and who were not aware of such a campaign. “Who are the people on twitter and Facebook?” asks James Niyonzima, a university student. “My grand mother? Or my brother in Rulindo in a tea planation?” The campaign target the elite, not the poor, and that is a nasty discrimination there.”

Hence, from the word go the campaign seemed to have eliminated the citizens in the underprivileged bracket who fell short of the basic qualifications, drawing a thick line between the ‘Haves and Have Nots’ in society. This is an understatement of the fate of the poor, but the BK campaign in essence undermined social justice.

The Marketing Manager of the Bank of Kigali, Kenneth Agutamba, came to the defense of the bank. He told us that it never prevented anyone who has no internet from participation. For example, he said, “We also got the story of an ISCO guard who heard about the engagement and wrote a long letter expressing his wish for Rwf1m to start a small business.”

Taarifa indeed saw the letter, but we are aware the guard is deployed at the bank. He is basically an indirect employee of the bank. A snapshot of the letter was tweeted by the official BK account.

Agutamba went on to defend the Bank. He said there is a, “boy who posted a picture of himself with his mother, in front of an old house with a wish for support to change the asbestos sheets from the old woman’s house.”

Sandra Idossou, the Managing Director of The Service Mag says dividing the people is a marketing strategy and found no problem with the BK campaign. “I think that not every project targets everyone…segmentation is a marketing strategy. While I agree this specific #MyWishat50 was for people on social media, I guess BK has other promotions going on or that will be launched for other people not on social media.”

We understand that BK has been advertising with The Service Mag, and chances are that Sandra Idossou’s views might be biased. However, Agutamba said that the bank is planning another campaign on a wider platform, which he did not mention, but we presume it is radio or TV.

Nevertheless, the bank is happy. “So, online engagements often result into offline engagement which is what happened in our case and we are happy,” Agutamba says.

The 50 winners are yet to be announced, but the bank congratulated all participants. 




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