The contest description encouraged female members to post a picture with the OnePlus logo on themselves or on a piece of paper. Then the rest of the forum community could vote on which image they liked best. The top 50 most liked photos would be selected to receive an invitation to purchase the flagship OnePlus One smartphone.
As word of the contest spread, participants and members of the media took a stand against what they saw as an objectification of already marginalized female tech enthusiasts. The mounting negative sentiment forced the company to pull the contest from its forum and issue an apology while asking for community feedback on how to get women better involved in tech.
The message here for communicators is clear: The only way to engage your audience is to know your audience. OnePlus’ message to tech-savvy women fell flat because even though women participated in the contest and won the prizes, the contest felt garnered more to the predominantly male forum community by requiring the approval of the community at large to win a top 50 spot. OnePlus lacked an accurate grasp on how to speak to a select group of users' wants and needs.
In the aftermath of OnePlus' faux pas we will see if the company, and the tech industry at large, is capable of a more complicated and nuanced communications strategy targeted at women.