Safaricom, the giant telephone and data service behemoth that has pulverised its rivals in the market, has withdrawn a Valentine’ Day hype promotion but chosen not to apologise officially for the clumsy oversight in a gender gaffe that ran afoul its gender sensitive users.

Its rapper CEO Bob Collymore decided to use facebook and twitter and made light of what is obviously a bigger goof, after the incident left even the company’s PR firm Gina Din out of wits.

“So this morning I’m gonna apologise for the Katia gaffe,” he tweeted today morning. “We deserve the slapping you gave us.” What was thought to be a clever marketing stunt to upstage its rivals on lovers day – urging phone users to katia (slang for seduce) her with a tune for only 5/- this Valentine’s – turned into a hate relationship and lost love after female users took great exception with the message mass-send to all its subscribers.

Female subscribers took the message quite literally and interpreted it to mean the mobile operator, known for its resounding local ads, was urging them to seduce a lady, meaning they were lesbian or something. Safaricom has nearly 20 million subscribers, some of whom went hammers and tongs on social media to lambast the company in the biggest backlash since it raised its calling rates by one shilling in October last year.

The message was sent to them on February 1 and 2. From mid-morning, Safaricom clients started receiving the text message. By evening, clients were still receiving the message, even after female customers companied over the clearly skewed texts. The fact that the message went out in the first place put its marketing and technical team in the spotlight. It was not clear as yet how many of Safaricom’s over 17 millions clients received the text message.

”This is nonsense, insensitive, and somehow humorous in a silly way,” a Muslim man told the Jackal News in Karen, Nairobi. On Twitter, @Donvictorsimon posted: ”I will surely katia her for 5 bob… Who said I wanted to katia someone?” On Facebook, Lucianna Njeri Mwaurah asked: “Safaricom wants 2 turn me 2 a lesbian… ati katia her na 5 bob…”

Emma Wanjiru Warutere commented: ”Safaricom should know people. Eti katia her. am I gay? nkt!” Rroba MRobert J asked: ”Does it mean ladies r dat cheap dat they worth only 5bob? I jst hope my grandfather didn’t get it! Aggrey Mmoja on Facebook too commented: ”Height of gender inequality. Safaricom sending the following SMS to all it customers regardless of their gender.”

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