Lush campaign: should more brands take a stand?

Handmade cosmetic retailer Lush has come under fire for its #SpyCops campaign, designed to bring attention to a Public Inquiry into Undercover Policing. Should more brands take a stand on society’s issues?

Lush has joined with campaign group Police Spies out of Lives to launch an awareness raising campaign called #SpyCops.

The goal of the campaign is to place pressure on Home Secretary Sajid David to accelerate an ongoing Undercover Policing Inquiry. It includes visuals of police officers with the words “Paid to lie” across its storefronts, accompanied by incident tape saying “Police have crossed the line.”

Bathing in controversy

Although Lush’s intention is to support activist victims who were spied upon by undercover police officers and who still can’t access the data held on them despite the inquiry, reaction to the campaign has been largely negative.

Some Lush shops have already taken down the displays due to “in-store intimidation”. Despite this, the retailer intends to run the campaign for a full three weeks as planned.

A key issue has been its creative execution according to Jo-ann Robertson, CEO, Ketchum London.

“Whilst I admire big business taking a stand on important controversial issues, the execution of these campaigns is absolutely critical,” she said.

“In my opinion, Lush got this campaign all wrong. It appears to attack the entire British police force, rather than the small division that behaved inappropriately.

“Marketeers have put Lush staff in a very compromising position. Trust in the police has never been higher and I think that Lush may be punished at the tills for this lack of judgement.”

Retail consultant and high street champion Graham Soult agrees.

“The stark and aggressive straplines and imagery have caused immediate offence, while largely failing to get across the intended message.”

Soult believes the lobbying element is less of the problem.

“Lush has always had a reputation for being a campaigning, and sometimes controversial, retailer. It’s hard to argue with the case for drawing public attention to the ongoing, but seemingly stuttering, public enquiry into past undercover policing units, where women formed intimate relationships with men who turn out to be police ‘spies’.

“However, where a marketing campaign goes so wrong that it requires the company to issue a lengthy statement explaining what it was trying to achieve, it may be time to cut your losses and admit defeat,” he said. 

Is it time for brands to do more?

In the face of political turbulence and years of austerity, and at a time when public trust in business, government, NGOs, and the media is at an all-time low, there is a growing recognition that organisations need to do more to contribute to society to secure long-term customer loyalty and advocacy. 

This has created an important shift in organisational communication. With the right campaign planning and execution, should more brands seek to use their influence in dealing with some of society’s big issues?

Professor Anne Gregory, chair in corporate communication at the University of Huddersfield, thinks so.

She said: “[Organisations] are being forced to re-think their purpose and how they gain and maintain their legitimacy not only with their immediate stakeholders, but to society more widely.”

While companies are increasingly called upon to have a social purpose linked to their objectives that underpins everything they do, success will be down to careful execution.

Lush may yet be hit hard in terms of sales for its clumsy approach to an important issue.

As Amanda Coleman, head of corporate communication for Greater Manchester Police, said: “All organisations get things wrong and all public sector organisations have to face scrutiny but surely it should be in the right place, at the right time and in the right way.”