Lyst isn’t selling puppies: It’s a stunt by a notorious social media company

By Mic Wright

Lyst swerved radically away from its usual business of selling clothes today, purporting to suddenly be selling dogs too.

The punchline of the stunt is obvious: Dogs are living creatures, not fashion accessories.

But the social media campaign by the fashion retailer — seemingly in collaboration with an animal charity — has bamboozled Twitter users, leading to both honest but misplaced yearning to pick up a pet and obvious anger at what looks like a truly awful idea.

It didn’t take long to discover who was behind the concept, however. One of the first ‘normal’ Twitter users to tweet claiming he had received a puppy was Alessio Esposito. His bio simply reads “Rugby, Manchester, Travels” but a quick Google search reveals that he’s employed by The Social Chain, a social media agency behind a large number of popular Twitter accounts.

I’m told by sources close to the campaign that it is only in its early stages and due to run for some time.

Attempting to ‘buy’ a puppy from the Lyst site leads you to an email address to express your interest — “caninecare@ly.st.” I suspect anyone who has emailed that address will receive a message tomorrow pushing the charity’s message.

I’ve contacted Esposito for more information. In the meantime, Lyst is continuing to play along with the story, replying in a deadpan manner, even to outraged animal lovers.

Many of the Social Chain’s ‘big’ Twitter accounts, with many thousands of followers — including British Logic and UK Banter — have been tweeting garrulously about the Lyst stunt to spread the story further.

As a 2015 BuzzFeed feature makes clear, using these huge social accounts to increase the reach of paid campaigns is one of the company’s favourite tactics:

The founders estimate that they own and control between 200 and 300 Twitter accounts, settling on 220 after some discussion. They also claim to be able to post from an even larger group of accounts they do not own but have relationships with — and say they can also use celebrities and YouTube stars to push their marketing messages when necessary.
As a result, Social Chain can start a trend and direct the conversations of thousands of Twitter users with remarkable ease. This daily viral trick has not just helped them take over the British internet, it’s earned them hundreds of thousands of pounds in the process.

While the account bios note that some messages are sponsored, individual tweets do not.

It appears that the RSPCA wasn’t aware of the stunt. A spokeswoman told MirrorOnline:

“Whether this is real or just a publicity stunt by Lyst, it sends out an extremely worrying message to people who are looking to get a new canine companion… We have tried to make contact with Lyst to discuss with them the implications a stunt like this might have.”

However, another animal charity The Dogs Trust, follows Lyst and is followed by the company in return on Twitter. In reply to concerned tweets from dog lovers and owners, it has been tweeting rather jaunty messages, e.g. “We’re aware and looking into it :) Thanks!” The tone is in marked contrast to the RSPCA’s understandably disturbed replies.

Update (10.05.16): I previously speculated here that Dogs Trust may be involved on the basis of the quote from a source close to Lyst below. However, the charity sent a statement to Jamie Klingler of ShortList — since published on its website — categorically denying that it is involved:

Whilst Dogs Trust is not involved in Lyst’s PR puppy stunt, the interest in this campaign draws attention to the concerning trend for impulse puppy purchases, which sadly Dogs Trust sees on a regular basis.
Certain breeds of small dogs are increasingly regarded as fashion accessories and bought without due consideration and thought. This trend and demand can fuel unscrupulous breeding and is why Dogs Trust has been working for the past three years on an investigative campaign to stop the puppy smuggling trade.

The Dogs Trust confirmed to me that it was approached by Lyst to partner with it on the campaign but turned down the offer.

Christian Woolfenden, former Managing Direction of Paddy Power, joined Lyst in January 2016 as CMO. In his time with the bookmaker, he oversaw controversial campaigns, including the Oscar Pistorious ad that garnered 5,525 complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority. 
The new ‘puppies’ story definitely has the hallmarks of his approach.

I spoke to a source close to Lyst who told me:

“The Dogs Trust has been on board since the beginning. [See denial from The Dogs Trust above] Lyst staff were given the heads up on Friday afternoon. They said they weren’t told that the RSPCA is on board, but some suspect it is.
There’s a lot of angry Lyst employees at the moment. Quite a few vocally objected to the campaign but were told they aren’t allowed to publicly voice their dissent.”

In April this year, Lyst set up a “DHL kidnap” stunt where their press team purported to have kidnapped a DHL driver in an attempt to secure suddenly fashionable swag from the company. Sources tell me DHL had to pressure Lyst to tone the stunt down as the initial idea was “Guantanamo-esque.”

I’m told Lyst is preparing to bring forward the campaign reveal from Thursday to Tuesday.

Meanwhile Lyst’s Twitter account continues to post tweets from ‘delighted new puppy owners’ (who’ve all retweeted the same Social Chain-owned accounts in the recent past) and members of the public continue to be appalled…

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