Parklife Weekender festival fined £70,000 after people received promotional text from their 'mum' – even those whose mothers had died

Festival organisers initially tweeted ‘So this is what it feels like to be a jar of Marmite’ when complaints started tumbling in

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The Independent Culture

A festival organiser has been fined £70,000 after a “fun” PR stunt in which it sent promotional text messages to music fans pretending to be from their mum backfired horribly.

Teenager Ros Prior was one of tens of thousands of people on a mailing list for Manchester’s Parklife Weekender festival at Heaton Park. Three weeks before this year’s event in June she received the message supposedly from her ‘mum’ – in fact her mother died of multiple sclerosis three years earlier.

Ms Prior, 19, was left in tears. She said: “My phone went off and I clicked to read it. It said, ‘New message from mum’ and my heart stopped. Even though it was only two seconds of sheer panic, it was horrible because I just saw mum. You just think, ‘Oh my God, is she still alive?’

“I started crying. And then I read the text and realised it was Parklife.”

The message said: “Some of the Parklife after parties have already sold. If your going, make sure your home for breakfast!” (sic)

Ms Prior sent an email to the organiser explaining her “utter disgust with your completely inconsiderate and insensitive use of recent marketing techniques”.

She started receiving messages from other people equally horrified after tweeting a picture of the email she sent Festival organisers, including co-promoters The Warehouse Project.

Ms Prior said: “People kept getting in touch, saying they felt the same and that Parklife couldn’t get away with this.”

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the independent authority set up to uphold information rights in the public interest, said many of the people who complained suffered “substantial distress”.

One person who contacted the ICO had kept the number of his recently-deceased mother in his contacts and was extremely distressed when he received the “unprofessional and disgusting message”.

Despite their actions, Parklife Weekender boss Sacha Lord-Marchionne tried to make light of the complaints tweeting: “So this is what it feels like to be a jar of Marmite #LoveItOrHateIt.”

Manchester Rain GETTY.jpg
Rain soaks revellers at Parklife Festival at Heaton Park, Manchester, in June 2014.

The ICO fined Parklife Manchester Ltd for breaching regulations because the identity of the person behind the text it sent to customers was “disguised or concealed”.

Many of those who bought tickets for the Festival, where Snoop Dogg and Foals headlined, refused to go or handed back their tickets. Violence marred the 2014 event: two teenagers survived being stabbed, but a 26-year-old man was killed by a punch to the head.

Steve Eckersley, Head of ICO enforcement, said: “This was a poorly thought out piece of marketing that didn’t appear to even try to follow the rules or consider the impact that their actions would have on the privacy of individuals. It made some people very upset in an attempt to sell tickets to a club night. The fine sends a clear message that using this type of marketing is unacceptable.”

A spokesperson for the festival said: “The communication was intended as a fun way of engaging festival-goers. However, the festival acknowledges that this was not an appropriate theme for everyone. The Parklife Weekender wants to apologise for any offence caused by the SMS marketing message sent to their customers earlier this year.”