Depending on which media you consume, the recent demise of on-line
fashion and streetwear retailer Boo.com, is either the death knell of
the internet as we know it, or little more than a dent in the dot.com
The truth of the matter probably lies somewhere in-between. Certainly,
some sectors of the media have got what they wanted, namely a
high-profile dot.com going bust. But those with a weather eye on the
market were not surprised by Boo’s downfall, and other potential
e-tailers and their investors have been shaken, but not deterred.
The many reasons behind Boo’s failure have been well documented, with
co-founder Kajsa Leander admitting that lack of senior business advice
was a major handicap. But should any blame be laid on the e-tailer’s
marketing and communications strategy?
’While there are many factors involved in the Boo.com crisis, one of
them is surely poor PR, particularly crisis management,’ says Kieran
Moore, director of Firefly Communications. Although Boo received strong
interest as a start-up, its site was dogged with technical problems, not
least the five-month delay to launch. These, coupled with customer
service difficulties eroded consumer and investor confidence and earned
the e-tailer serious criticism from the media.
Although the marketing team almost certainly did not create Boo’s
infrastructure problems, it appears it failed to keep the critics quiet.
’Boo.com’s approach to crisis management was too ponderous to match that
of its detractors,’ adds Moore. ’It did not seem to understand the
nature of its own industry.’
This is not only an issue of communications speed and reach, but also a
matter of survival. With no tangible assets other than its intellectual
property, a web site, and an infant brand, Boo’s apparent failure to
react in difficult circumstances laid it open to a fairly swift
In addition, it still remains a mystery to many why Boo set up a service
that boasted hi-tech wizardry at the expense of a bulletproof shopping
experience. ’It is important not to over hype. The site has to do what
you say it can, otherwise you lay your site open to a lot of negative
publicity,’ says John Rivett, managing director of Hill and Knowlton’s
youth and consumer division.
However, with all Boo’s financial and business model problems, it would
be naive to suggest that PR and marketing was its fundamental flaw.
’Some of the marketing and PR was pretty good at the outset,’ says Nick
Leonard, head of creative services at Lewis PR. ’But planning-wise, they
hyped it up too much before they had a proposition they could
In fact, in the early days, Boo’s PR was textbook stuff, painting
founding duo - Leander and Ernst Malmsten - as bright young things and
creating brand recognition almost overnight. With dot.com fever at its
height in mid-1999, it is hard to argue that this strategy was wrong.
’In terms of first mover advantage, you have to push the button at some
point to create awareness,’ says Rivett, who brought Boo to H&K at the
end of 1998.
In April last year, the dot.com switched its UK trade and consumer PR to
fashion specialist Modus Publicity with a remit to launch the site to
the UK media, to coincide with the scheduled launch period of June 1999.
This included placing features with the consumer monthlies, the trade
and specialist titles, plus selected broadcast media, prior to Boo’s
above-the-line print campaign and its TV campaign which kicked off in
These activities worked well, countering much of the bad feeling around
the delayed launch. But this is where many think Boo’s marketing
strategy got stuck, focusing on short term impact rather than delivering
the substance of a long-term vision.
’It’s all about the management of expectations,’ says Martin Forrest
director of Cubitt Consulting. ’Boo’s PR was good, but it failed to
evolve with the market understanding of the internet.’
’They should have been telling people about new brand partnerships and
giving a sophisticated picture of potential revenue streams and how the
business would grow,’ he adds.
In many ways, Boo’s initial communications worked too well for its own
good. With a massive profile, it was bound to come under the microscope
once people suspected that it could not deliver on its promise. Boo’s
fall from grace has completely overshadowed other fallers in the market,
including on-line tech news provider Netimperative, which a consortium -
including the Internet Business Group - is currently trying to
So, what can other dot.coms and their PROs learn from the Boo
Obviously, off-line brand awareness is no guarantee of on-line success
and it is dangerous to separate PR from the delivery of what is actually
But it seems that caution will be the watch-word for the immediate
future, in more ways than one. Investors may not be quite so hasty, but
similarly dot.coms may not be quite so hell-bent on moving to IPO. They
will have to look at their profile more carefully and perhaps move to a
more traditional corporate programme.
The lessons may have come too late for Boo, but learning from its
pitfalls could be beneficial to the longevity of a great many other