When ‘snowflakes’ attack: Home truths for Bank of Ireland

Caveat: Bank of Ireland ad reveals perils of targeting Generation Y

An unintentionally funny episode of the pointless drama over a Bank of Ireland blog about a house-hunting young couple arose on Pat Kenny's Newstalk show on Thursday, during a discussion with economist Jim Power and journalist Aoife Barry.

The item arose from a mystifying Twitter backlash against the bank for highlighting “Orla” and her boyfriend, who moved home to save up a deposit. BoI deleted the tweet and accompanying blog, after it was accused of insensitivity by millennials who feel the housing ladder is out of reach and thought the suggestion of moving home to save was patronising. Critics of the backlash told them to dry their eyes, it’s just an ad.

Barry, who is 34, was critical of the ad and generally represented those outraged on social media – she even sports a presumably ironic snowflake in her Twitter handle. Power, who is of a slightly older vintage, was broadly dismissive of the backlash. He recalled selling his Mini to help gather a deposit to buy his first home. Kenny read out a stream of messages from listeners, mostly critical of Barry for being oversensitive.

Kenny then read a message aimed at Power. “I’m outraged at Jim Power suggesting I sell my car to buy my house,” read Kenny, adopting a deliberate tone of mock indignation. The tweet was obviously a wind-up. “Not everyone has a car. So insensitive of Jim... signed, Snowflake from Cork.”


Barry is from Cork, and has the lilt to prove it. The message was obviously a dig at her, and seemed supportive of Power. But he didn’t see it that way. Power, normally as rational and genial as economists get, reared up in indignation. For real.

Missed a joke

“I didn’t suggest anyone sell their car, I sold my own car,” he retorted, his voice faltering with anger. He hit out at people for “bitching” and said we were “all free to do what we want”. We couldn’t see the blood rising up the back of Power’s neck. But we could almost hear it. Kenny hadn’t the heart to tell him he had simply missed a joke.

There it was, peak Irish media discussion about millennials and social media. One of the country’s soundest economists, outraged over a misconstrued message that was poking fun at the outrage of “snowflakes” on Twitter, whose original outrage was sparked by a bank, which made a not-very-outrageous ad . . . about a mortgage product.

This is the danger of paying too much attention to those who get easily outraged on social media. They make everybody else feel so raw and sensitive, they end up sounding almost as bad as the outraged.

I’m not crazy about the term “snowflake”. It was a witty put-down when it first emerged about 18 months ago. But it is too loaded now, and its use often reveals as much about the bias of the user as the target. But call them what you want – we know who we’re talking about. As Bank of Ireland found out to its cost this week, this group presents a conundrum for businesses who must figure out how to deal with them. Dramas such as the one over the mortgage ad are almost impossible to foresee.

Perhaps BoI is secretly delighted. For two days straight, one of its prime target demographics on social media has spoken of nothing but its ad about mortgages. When the anger dies down – any minute now – and everybody forgets, many of the same people will still want mortgages in future. Then, they will recall that Bank of Ireland targets people in their age group.

Frenzies of outrage

The bank's publicity predicament over the ad is just a blip, merely this week's target for Irish Twitter's Two Minutes Hate. But sometimes, these frenzies of outrage become more serious and spiral out of control. Pepsi, for example, was absolutely slaughtered earlier this year over its ad, featuring Kendall Jenner, who waltzes through a protest crowd to present a can of soda to a police officer.

Taken in isolation, the ad seemed, to some, about as offensive as a day-old kitten. Cringeworthy, yes. Yet it was quickly seen, rightly or wrongly, to evoke the Black Lives Matter protests in the US. Throw a white girl into the ad in that context – seemingly solving the problem for everybody – and it took on a whole new meaning.

The online backlash, whose ground zero constituted people who some might be tempted to dismiss as "snowflakes", radiated outwards from there. It soon caught the attention of the mainstream media, and then the dam burst. Everybody from Madonna to Martin Luther King's daughter, Bernice King, weighed in. It is impossible for any company, even a global brand, to contain a situation like that. It pulled the campaign.

The irony of Bank of Ireland’s (far less serious) situation is that “Orla” works as a digital marketer. She has to navigate these same perilous waters every day for her employer, without sparking a backlash. Then her bank dropped her in it.

I’m not sure I’d have the stomach for Orla’s job, or those who devised her ad. Marketing to younger people on social media is like petting a cute koala. It’s probably a pleasant enough experience. Until it rips off your hand and chews half your face.


Grand Canal Dock on Thursday evening is the place to be, if you fancy watching a charity boat regatta involving lawyers, accountants, engineers, architects, builders property agents and the like. Some of them might even get wet, if you’re lucky.

The event is the inaugural Dragon at the Dock charity race in aid of the Dublin Simon Community, which will get three-quarters of the cash raised. The rest is earmarked for various local charities. It is organised by several large companies in the property industry, which many agree has a special responsibility to help the homeless.

Stock market-listed Cairn Homes, Green REIT, Hibernia REIT, Ires REIT, as well as Dundrum centre owner Hammerson and Kennedy Wilson, are all backing the event.

Rowers and rhythm

A dragon boat is an Asian-inspired racing boat, with each team comprising 10 rowers . . . and a drummer. The cadence of the drums helps the rowers get into their rhythm.

There are a few glorious potential match-ups. Who, for example, will come out on top when Davy stockbrokers line up in the financial advisers race which also includes Goodbody? Just don't mention any "underwater" deals around those two. Clearwater International is surely the favourite for that race.

The lawyers also have their own dragon boat race. Who will come out on top between A&L Goodbody, Arthur Cox, William Fry, Eversheds and the rest? Lawyers should be good on the water – I hear Denis O'Brien keeps the whole profession afloat.

There are some cracking team names. The building company’s team, Walls on Water, is definitely up there. But my personal favourite is the property agents, JLL – Harder Faster, Deeper.