Ęśąćż - how a Polish bank’s PR crisis led to over 1M in earned media (8 min read)

mBank – one of the biggest Polish banks with – as it turns out – a damn good communications team. mBank’s mobile app developers sent by accident a push notification with a test message to all clients. A quick and funny PR response led to effects beyond expectations!

?Strategy & Tools


  • 3:00 pm, Aug 5, 2020 – a series of push notifications is sent. From the first to last: 
    • „ęśąćż” – a random string of polish diacritical marks
    • „test wiadomości push” - push notifications test
    • „mBank pozdrawia”, „Życzymy miłego dnia” – greetings from mBank, we wish you a nice day
  • 3:34 pm, Aug 5, 2020 – Twitter gets flooded with complaints about neither the app nor the website working. Some are just curious what just happened–was it a hack?

  • 3:38 pm, Aug 5, 2020 – mBank tweets with apologies, explains that they accidentally sent test notifications and asks to not open them. It turned out everyone was doing so which overcrowded the servers and led to similar effects as a Denial of Service attack. That only affected the website, but it contributed to some problems with logging in.

  • 3:40 pm, Aug 5,2020 – #ęśąćż trends, hundreds of screenshots and memes are spread around social media

  • 3:58 pm, Aug 5, 2020 – allegro mimics mBank with Real-time Marketing.

  • 6:20 pm, Aug 5, 2020 – another RTM push rolls out. Pizza Hut sent „ęśąćż” and informed about their promotion.

  • 8:20 pm, Aug 5, 2020 – mBank changes their profile photos to „ęśąćż”. On LinkedIn, ends the day with „lessons learned” post

Aug 7, 2020 – mBank launches promo code „ęśąćż” for insurance

Aug 12, 2020 – Advertising Value Equivalent (AVE) for „ęśąćż” coverage gets over 1.16M PLN - $311,321

Was it staged?
Looking back, many people wondered whether the whole „crisis” was staged. The mBank’s communication seemed just too on point and the reaction too quick.

That has been denied by the bank and their alibi makes much sense. These push notifications led to problems with websites and online and mobile banking. That’s not an ideal situation if you stage it as you risk ending up with thousands of unhappy customers.

You won’t, however, to communicate so well that such actions end as a massive win! 

Managing social crisis like a boss
The communication led by mBank was spot on, and it followed all the best practices of managing what could become a PR crisis.

That means they acted immediately, explained what happened, apologized for any inconvenience, and then… loosened up their white collars. Many brands try to cover up stuff and that never is a good idea. Approaching communication in such situations with transparency was the way to go.

An important factor was creativity. mBank began being really professional but then, as the internet was full of memes with „ęśąćż”, they decided to go with the flow and join that narrative. The audience loved it!

Leading the conversation
Although the situation could get out of hand quickly, it was really under control – apart from the push notifications themselves.

After explaining the situation, mBank set the tone of the conversation, making fun of the situation. They didn’t go beyond any line, and they weren’t too serious–that was just right.

At the end of the day, they summed up what happened, shared the lessons learned and that was it. The conversation around #ęśąćż could have been continued, but they were out.

Avoiding clichés
In most cases, you’d think that when marketing a bank, you have to build trust through a serious type of communication. Getting out of such clichés helps the business stand out and it did so for mBank.

Push notifications still work!
Marketers tend to exploit the channels they use. In defense, people learn to ignore them and that leads to lowering the performance of such ads forever.

On the other hand, test notifications really stood out which made so many people click them, that they broke the bank website. Not to mention that getting something like „ęśąćż” from a banking app is what should make you NOT click it from the security concerns.

Real-Time Marketing
Just as PR and social media people from mBank reacted immediately, so did other brands that noticed opportunities to engage with their audience.

In just half an hour from receiving the notifications, marketers from Allegro, Pizza Hut, Tidal, Graal, and many other companies sent similar notifications to their clients but promoting their products and services. That could also work as there was already a conversation around the topic and people who were interested in how the situation might develop (and what memes can it produce!), had been checking out anything related.

Social Media Crisis Strategy
mBank has introduced PR crisis management earlier, and it proved to be working. The team responsible for the communication had jumped on a call just after the notifications had been sent. Acting so urgently allowed them to plan every step but at the same time, they realized this crisis is not a real crisis, and they can manage it straight away.

App Push Notifications
Social Media


Von Restorff Effect
Von Restorff effect is a natural human mechanism to isolate what doesn’t fit the picture. It was a survival mechanism in prehistoric times, but it still works anywhere.

Among dozens of self-promoting app push notifications and hundreds of messages, we get every day, receiving an unexpected message works like an eye-magnet. That is what caught the attention of so many mBank users and made them click the notifications, even though they hadn’t any CTA.

The Need to Belong
Having a sense of belonging has been noticed as one of the 5 basic human needs by Maslow. That also drives some online behavior, such as watching and making memes or sharing and exchanging thoughts. This is one of the reasons why people went on to share their experience with a banking app as they discovered more people received similar messages.

?Window of Opportunity

To error is human 

No matter how hard you try, you and your team will make mistakes and some of them will be visible. If they require special communication, you want to handle it as mBank did. 

Act quickly, explain the situation, and if there’s space for it – turn it around to build your brand! Handling crises the right way might even win you some new fans as you go viral!

Other than that–do anything you can to really (I mean, really) stand out. With unconventional copywriting and creatives, your audience will pay close attention to what you have to say!

You cannot copy content of this page