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‘Insulting’, ‘damaging’ and ‘the worst marketing I have ever seen’.
These are just some of the words and phrases used in response to two PR campaigns which have both been met with a huge backlash and forced the brands behind them into crisis media management mode.
Cosmetics brand Lush and credit card company Mastercard have both been in the social media firing line in the last few days for campaigns which have been poorly communicated and misjudged.
Handmade cosmetics company Lush found itself in hot water for its campaign against police corruption.
The ‘anti-spy cops’ campaign has been described by the brand as an attempt to raise awareness of the ‘on-going undercover policing scandal where officers have infiltrated the lives, homes, and beds of activists’.
It saw posters placed in shops with police officers and the phrase ‘paid to lie’ and fake police tape featuring the message ‘police have crossed a line’.
But for many, the aim of the campaign has been unclear and it has been seen as an anti-police / anti-establishment initiative.
It has drawn criticism from Home Secretary Sajid Javid, and Sara Thornton – head of the National Police Chiefs’ Council’. It has also received a fierce backlash from numerous police social media accounts and from members of the public as the hashtag #flushlush trended and its Facebook page hit 30,000 one star reviews.
Never thought I would see a mainstream British retailer running a public advertising campaign against our hardworking police. This is not a responsible way to make a point https://t.co/dZqF3iMN6U— Sajid Javid (@sajidjavid) June 1, 2018
I will be on @bbc5live and @SkyNews from 4pm, speaking about the debacle that @LushLtd have got themselves into.— Ché Donald (@PFEW_Che) June 1, 2018
This campaign is offensive, disgusting and insulting to the hard work, professionalism and dedication of police officers throughout the UK.@PFEW_HQ #FlushLush pic.twitter.com/Gjy8juoxS9
For those who don’t understand the @LushLtd controversy - they’re insinuating all police officers are liars due to the actions of a few officers.— McClane (@McClaneUK) June 2, 2018
It’s like saying everyone who works at @LushLtd is a massive nob due to the actions of their marketing manager#FlushLush
Hilary Jones, Lush's ethical director, has said she has been ‘shocked’ by the backlash and the brand has subsequently moved to clarify the aims of the campaign with tweets and a lengthy statement on its website.
This is not an anti-state/anti-police campaign. We are aware that the police forces of the UK are doing an increasingly difficult and dangerous job whilst having their funding slashed. (1/3)— LUSH UK (@LushLtd) June 1, 2018
Read the full statement here: https://t.co/dmvleH4zyJ
We fully support them in having proper police numbers, correctly funded to fight crime, violence and to be there to serve the public at our times of need. (2/3)— LUSH UK (@LushLtd) June 1, 2018
This campaign is not about the real police work done by those front line officers who support the public every day - it is about a controversial branch of political undercover policing that ran for many years before being exposed. (3/3) #SpyCops— LUSH UK (@LushLtd) June 1, 2018
But invariably, if you have to clarify intentions, aims and messages, then the damage has already been done.
And that's the problem the majority of people walking past that window will have no idea what it's about and it simply appears to be an anti police campaign. It's a very small minority this is targeted at but pretty much every officer I have spoken to is offended by it.— steve penhall (@penhalluk) June 1, 2018
As well as the crucial initial lack of clarity around the campaign, a number of other people questioned the relevance of the issue to the brand.
All the data points to consumers wanting brands to take a position on public issues. But it has to be relevant and the brand has to have authority on the topic. Unclear to me what “bath bombs” have got to do with the conduct of undercover police officers. https://t.co/ajgdCfkqSW— Ed Williams (@EdWilliamsUK) June 1, 2018
Lush has taken displays down in some of its shops, citing ‘intimidation from ex-police officers’, but it has insisted it will continue to run the campaign.
It is continuing to push the campaign on its social media accounts, with pinned tweets and through sharing articles that have praised the campaign.
Time will tell if it sticks with it for the intended three weeks.
Another company which has suffered something of a PR own goal is Mastercard, which has been accused of trivialising the plight of starving children.
It suffered a hugely negative social media response after launching a campaign to donate 10,000 meals to starving children every time star footballers Neymar Jr and Lionel Messi score a goal.
The gesture sparked an instant backlash. Former footballer turned pundit Ian Wright described it as ‘easily the worst marketing I’ve ever seen’, while The Times journalist Henry Winter questioned why the company didn’t just give the meals to the children regardless of who scored goals.
Why not give them the meals anyway.... https://t.co/90TkyxpsLc— Henry Winter (@henrywinter) June 1, 2018
Easily the worst marketing I’ve ever seen😱. This seriously got through the different levels of management, and you all said go ahead 😢 https://t.co/uPbGU9VH0H— Ian Wright (@IanWright0) June 2, 2018
Worst PR own goal ever. If you’ve got the money.... just buy the f***ing food. How sad that the fate of a starving child rests in the foot of a multi million pound player.— Justin Lockwood (@Lockers75) June 1, 2018
MasterCard, official sponsor of the Hunger Games https://t.co/RkIRyZ9IrX— Jack (@czartacus) June 2, 2018
Others suggested whether goalkeepers would effectively be denying starving children food if they prevented the star players from scoring.
The company’s Latin American Twitter account went into crisis media management mode over the weekend, but its output was very bland, robotic-sounding tweets.
The campaign running in Latam is a small part of our global commitment to deliver 100 MM meals to those in need. Mastercard is the single largest private sector supporter of World Food Programme. Our brand ambassadors help raise awareness to the cause, raising 400K meals thus far— Noticias Mastercard (@MastercardLAC) June 2, 2018
The company is quoted as saying: “We don't want fans, players or anyone to lose focus on the critical issue of hunger and our efforts to raise support for this cause.”
It added that the 10,000 meals per goal donation would now be replaced with a contribution of one million meals in 2018.
However, to complete a rather miserable episode for the company, the original tweet promoting the initiative remains at the top of its Twitter account at the time of writing.
Goals that changes lives: for each goal scored by Messi or Neymar Jr. Mastercard will donate the equivalent of 10,000 meals to @WFP to fight childhood hunger and malnutrition in Latin America and the Caribbean #TogetherWeAre10 #StartSomethingPriceless https://t.co/URfIp77ElN pic.twitter.com/Ckq61oJgld— Noticias Mastercard (@MastercardLAC) May 31, 2018
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