Crisis media management: Campaigns trigger social media backlash

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Campaigns trigger social media backlash

‘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.


Hot water


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.



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. 


But invariably, if you have to clarify intentions, aims and messages, then the damage has already been done.



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.



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.



Own goal


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.



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.



It has since been reported by The Drum and ESPN that Mastercard has scrapped the meal donation scheme.

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.



Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers. 

Click here to find out more about our journalist-led crisis communication and social media training.



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