There’s no such thing as bad publicity…


by Sarah Hood

Crossing the line?

Lush, who has just been voted the UK‘s favourite high street store in a consumer poll, is facing fierce backlash over its new #SpyCops campaign.

The campaign highlights the “ongoing undercover policing scandal where officers have infiltrated the lives, homes and beds of activists” but has sparked outrage amongst the public and the National Police Chiefs Council, claiming the campaign is insulting and damaging towards the police.

The visually impactful campaign sees store windows across the UK decorated with police tape, stating: ‘Police have crossed the line’ as well as posters clearly featuring one half of a first response officer.

Why risk your reputation?

The campaign has proven to be hugely detrimental to the once customer favourite brand with thousands leaving one star reviews on the Facebook page and mass criticism on social media. It has even led to staff facing intimidation from ex-police officers in store.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid, has responded by tweeting “never thought I would see a mainstream British retailer running a public advertising campaign against our hardworking police.’

Lush has built its values on its ethical buying policy and long-standing fight against animal testing but why would such a well-loved, respected brand risk their reputation?

Missing the mark

They aren’t the first and certainly won’t be the last brand to use their voice to ruffle a few feathers. In 2017, Dove was accused of racism in a campaign promoting their body lotion. The brand who has run its Campaign for Real Beauty since 2004 and aims to celebrate and inspire confidence in all women, made a blunder on its Facebook page by showing a black woman turning into a white woman. In the ad, a black woman removes her top to reveal a white woman underneath supposedly after using Dove body lotion. The campaign was quickly removed from Facebook with Dove admitting they had ‘missed the mark’ but not before it was shared all over social media.

Pushing the boundaries

With almost 3,000 negative comments in response to the ad, many called for a boycott of Dove’s products. In response, Dove tweeted ‘This `{`ad`}` did not represent the diversity of real beauty which is something Dove is passionate about and is core to our beliefs, and it should not have happened.’

Although in this case Dove admitted a mistake was made, brands have been known to push the boundaries to capitalise on sales.

In 2015, Protein World was accused of body-shaming with a controversial campaign featuring a bikini-clad model and the line ‘Are you beach body ready?’ The campaign received nearly 400 complaints that the image promoted the fact that other body shapes were unacceptable and cited the brand as socially irresponsible. Unlike Dove, Protein World took a fairly unapologetic stance and said the ad ‘invited viewers to consider if they were in the shape they wanted to be…’ It was reported that immediately following the campaign, the brand made £1million due to the mass coverage it received.

Our opinion

So what do we think? When is it acceptable for brands and retailers to use their voice politically? Lisa Prescott, Chalk + Ward’s retail expert gives us her opinion…

‘Given the conditions of the retail market space, it’s more important than ever for retail brands to have a purpose, something that defines them and gives customers a reason to shop with them. This in turn creates loyalty and trust between retailer and consumer. It’s critical to growth for retailers to promote their ‘voice’ which engages in a relevant way and resonates with their audience.

I love Lush – their products, their stores and their service. Everything they do is quality and I’ve cited them in many client meetings as leaders in their field. However, on this occasion and in my opinion, they got it so wrong! We’ve all seen the backlash, it’s rife. I understand their ethos and why they’re backing such an initiative, furthermore, if there is a minority group in the Police force who’ve committed a crime such as this, then it needs to be dealt with. However, the people to deal with it isn’t a retailer, it isn’t Lush!

Lush also got it massively wrong in their execution of the campaign – it’s completely inaccurate to use a first response Police Officer in the visual treatment. What were they trying to achieve with this? If it’s educational, they failed. If it’s to engage with a wider audience, they failed. If it’s to gain a deeper loyalty within a niche audience, they probably succeeded. And if it’s to damage brand perception, they most definitely succeeded! All in all, probably not the ROI they wanted.

Retail brands must stand out from the crowd to survive and they must be brave. But making decisions like this, which can only come from the Board, is frankly just insane and they’re going to have to sell a whole heap of bath bombs to claw back sales from this absolute clanger!’

For over 20 years we have been helping some of the south west’s biggest retail names make and deliver strategic decisions based on sound knowledge. If you’re a retailer or brand wanting some help, why not give us a call? Get in touch!

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