The theatrical Act for suing as a PR Stunt

Avatar photo Cedric Voigt - 23rd Feb, 2016


When a client tells you, they would like to sue someone, usually PR people react with “Oh shit, we’re in for it!”. Why? Because something’s up and your average PR consultant is afraid now his client is using his last chance to defend themselves. In aboalarm’s case it was quite different for they hit a nerve with their case. They dug right into the Achilles’ verse of mobile providers, one everyone can relate to, an anger which had been boiling long and hot under the surface: Their service. In this case it had been all about ending a mobile contract with one of the worldwide leading mobile providers – Téléfonica, parent company of O2.

Enter the case!


Act I. Who would be so crazy to sue O2 or in other words: who is aboalarm?

Now first off a little explanation what aboalarm is truly about: It is an online consumer portal that helps consumers cancelling their contracts. Especially in Germany this can be a hassle, as the conditions to end a contract vary from the kind of service you plan to quit. Thanks to aboalarm consumers manage, withdraw and cancel their contracts with businesses ranging from mobile providers and fitness studios to online dating portals companies in a way that is fast, easy and legally watertight. Furthermore, aboalarm reminds users of notice periods and provides them with verifications and template files for contract terminations.

The most simple yet probably for the average German consumer most efficient invention is the possibility of cancelling online. So most do that, and up until today, aboalarm managed to cancel more than 10 million contracts.


Act II. What O2 did

Now in the case of O2, just like with any other service you can cancel with aboalarm, people ended their contract. However, some employees of O2 declined accepting the cancellation. Surprised, people called the O2 service telling them what happened that their cancellation via aboalarm hadn’t been accepted. The answer of the O2 service: Unfortunately they do not accept cancellations coming from aboalarm. Uh what? aboalarm did some research and it turns out that O2’s business model includes to outsource part of their customer services to call centres. A cheap and convenient way to avoid investing in proper training in staff while keeping external pressure by the direct employer , the call center, up – and of course, to sell, sell, sell. So, when someone calls O2 to ask why their cancellations hasn’t been accepted, most likely they simply say, it is not valid and try to sell a new and better contract. aboalarm approached O2 implying they might sue them since it is not legal by German law to call online cancellations invalid. O2 then did offer aboalarm a (unterlassung), promising to make sure their employees will not say such things, but excluding employees in call centers – where basically all of their service staff in Germany is nowadays stationed at!

So in short: Actually officially O2 does accept aboalarm cancellations, there is no way for them to go around it. However, employees in call centres keep telling customers this isn’t the case whenever they are asking them.


III. How Ballou PR reacted

Both the damage for aboalarm’s business as well as the amount of people complaining about this behaviour of O2 skyrocketed in a short amount of time so that the Munich startup decided to sue O2. Together with aboalarm we evaluated the case and went back and forth with their attorny to make sure to have an exclusive release that was just as watertight as aboalarm’s cancellations. We then approached selected media exclusively with the story. Similar to fishing in a shark tank with an expensive and unique bait labelled with O2 all over it, it was only a matter of a short time until one of the leading nationals bit and set of a trail of blood while eating the story. Everyone was eager to get share their story on how O2 ripped their cage and how they can now avenge themselves. Others smelled it and got the taste  for O2 demise it and soon we had a swarm of incoming media requests and a public watching the spectacle in the tank vibrantly commenting on it on social media.


The Result

Up until today we receive request due to aboalarm’s move to go to court – and there is no decision on the outcome yet. Be it national tv, private and broadcast, or nationals, consumer or tech press, everyone’s eager to get their fair share of the O2 case. Once judgement day arrives  we will make sure that everyone will know the outcome.

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