Way back in April when public displays of NHS appreciation were in their prime, 20-year-old NHS student nurse Lara Harper, found herself at the forefront of PR disaster by taking to Twitter to publicly ‘cancel’ fashion retailers Oh Polly. Things went wrong when the brand ran an exclusive competition to celebrate NHS staff working on the frontline during the strife of Covid-19, then ironically refused to award the winner as she was too busy working…on the frontline…for the NHS?? Something didn’t quite add up!

When receiving the Instagram message to be notified of her prize, Lara also received an invitation to join a virtual Zoom event the following Friday at 4pm, but notified the page that she couldn’t actually attend the event due to having to work a 12 hour shift on the front line. The response to this message took twitter by storm when much to the Internet’s dismay, Oh Polly replied with an apology and informed Lara that she wasn’t eligible for the prize anymore. Users of all ages and genders rushed to the student nurse’s defence and called Oh Polly out for their contradictive behaviour – wanting to show appreciation for NHS workers but then not allowing them to claim the prize when they’re too busy working on the front line and saving lives???

Thousands of twitter users (more than 60,000 in fact) were quick to jump behind Lara and support her disgust in the fashion brand who claims they are, “FOR GIRLS. BY GIRLS”. Many users commented agreeing that the customer service handling in this situation was completely ridiculous with one outraged supporter expressing their dismay by tweeting, “Shocking from the marketing team @ohpolly Hope this gets the negative publicity it deserves.” Given the extreme lengths that the NHS worker’s tweet was able to reach, I don’t think this is something that will be forgotten in any hurry!

The ‘Oh Polly’ Twitter page had no choice other than to publicly address their error and admit that they had made a huge mistake with their handling of the NHS competition. A thread of three tweets was published to cover their backs and explain what they believed had happened. Despite reacting quickly to the backlash that was being received, offering a written apology and taking responsibility for incident  as well as attempting to offer a solution, the damage was already done. Again, other Twitter users came out in full force to criticise the fashion giants.

To add to the humiliation of the brand, huge competitors such as ‘Pretty Little Thing’ decided to get a piece of the action and use Oh Polly’s customer service crisis as a strong marketing strategy by gaining customer’s respect. They reached out on Twitter and wrote: “Lara, we want to celebrate YOU & all the incredible things you are doing right now. DM us for a pretty little parcel. You deserve it Love PLT.”

This was a clever way of using the opportunity to subtly throw shade at their competitors but also showing full support of the 20 year-old, who at the time of the ordeal had only just began working for the health service after completing her placement as a Glasgow Caledonian University student.

In addition to large retailers, many small and start up businesses utilised the situation by offering Lara free care packages and took this as an opportunity to get their name’s out there. These kinds of comments were also well received by the public and gained numerous comments of positive feedback during a time deep negativity and uncertainty. I’m just glad that some positivity was able to come from such a disastrous situation!

Post apology from the boujee fashion brand, Lara came to Twitter to inform her rally of supporters that she said she would, “Take the new outfit that they were offering but wouldn’t be shopping with Oh Polly again.”

To be honest, I really don’t blame you Lara after this real life fashion dilemma…

Eimear Delargy is a final year BSc Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found on LinkedIn and Twitter