Should Lush stick to selling soap?

What do we think of the Lush campaign? Does it help to highlight an important issue? Is it putting staff in danger? Does it undermine the police? Is it ill thought out? Does it make for good PR for Lush? Perhaps it’s all of these things?

The Lush campaign

The recent Lush campaign saw store windows decorated with posters and the #spycops hashtag and fake police tape with the words “Police have crossed the line” emblazoned on it. It was due to run until 17 June but the BBC has reported (Lush drops ‘anti-spy cops’ campaign) that the campaign was ended on 8 June 2018 by Lush “for the safety of our staff”.

Lush poster as Twitter feed header "Paid to lie #spycops" picture of man's face split in two police helmet one side

But it continued less than a week later.

13 June 2018 The Guardian reported that Cosmetics chain Lush resumes undercover police poster campaign. Lush put up new posters in their windows without pictures.

Its Twitter account was limited to the one tweet:

Others tweeted the posters:

What is this all about?

 In 2015 an Inquiry into undercover policing was established. Its purpose is

… to investigate and report on undercover police operations conducted by English and Welsh police forces in England and Wales since 1968. The Inquiry will examine the contribution undercover policing has made to tackling crime, how it was and is supervised and regulated, and its effect on individuals involved – both police officers and others who came into contact with them.”

In brief, undercover police officers infiltrated peaceful campaign organisations and became involved in the lives of members of those organisations. Activists unwittingly found themselves in relationships with undercover police officers. Some even had children as a result of those relationships.

When this was discovered, activists reacted with anger and horror. One said that it was “like being raped by the state”  Trauma of spy’s girlfriend: ‘like being raped by the state’ (Guardian)

Legal actions are ongoing from those affected by the undercover police scandal.

Lush is highlighting the issues around the Inquiry and the stories of those activists whose lives were damaged by undercover police behaviour which was approved and funded by the police and by the Home Office.

shop window paid to lie poster #spycopsWhat Lush says

Faced with widespread criticism of branding all police officers as spies and liars, Lush released a statement. It starts “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.  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.

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.”

Those affected by the undercover police officers

The Guardian published an article with a long list of MPs, representatives from unions, justice campaigns etc.

As victims of spycops, we stand with Lush in campaign for full disclosure 74 victims of secret undercover police operations, lawyers gave a joint statement saying “The cosmetics retailer Lush has used its facilities to help us as victims press for full disclosure and reform so that this never happens again….. This is not an attack on police; it serves to help all those in the police service who wish to uphold the highest standards of policing. For this we thank Lush for its support. We condemn those who have misrepresented Lush and our campaign and especially those who have sought to intimidate Lush staff.

and it published another article on freedom of speech:

I don’t like Lush’s #spycops campaign, but shutting it down is an abuse of power

Other MPs gave their support on Twitter:

After Lush closed down it’s campaign early, The Guardian published the story of the son of one of the victims.  As the son of an undercover cop, I support what Lush did. He talks about his loss of identity and the refusal of the police to help him. It’s very moving.

Whilst this all shows support of Lush, not all victims are supportive. BBC News online reported on one of the victims who had a baby by one of the officers, headlined “Lush ‘using me to sell soap’

The piece says: “Jacqui told BBC Radio 5 live that she felt her case was being “used to sell soap” and that the firm should have “had the courtesy to warn me” about the campaign.

She said: “I’d just like an apology from them.”

Jacqui said no-one from Lush had contacted her about the campaign and that she had received a barrage of calls since it was launched.”

What the police say

The Police Federation wrote an Open letter to the Advertising Standards Authority. In it the chairs of the Police Federation of England and Wales, Scottish Police Federation and the Federation for Northern Ireland said: “We have been contacted directly by hundreds of police officers from the four countries of the United Kingdom who, like us, find the campaign distasteful, offensive and consider it deliberately provokes an anti-police sentiment.”

They requested an apology from Lush.

But on the 2nd June 2018 the BBC reported (Dorset PCC supports Lush ‘spy cops’ campaign) that the  Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner Martyn Underhill described the infiltration of animal rights activists as “disproportionate and distasteful”.

“In short, I do support Lush in exposing this issue,” he added.

What an ex undercover spycop says

What the Advertising Standards Authority says

In a statement an ASA spokesperson said “We can confirm we received over 30 complaints about the Lush police campaign. The material displayed in the Lush shop window is not within our remit as it’s not a sales promotion. The online and social media entries don’t fall within our definition of advertising as set out in the Advertising Codes that online material must be ‘directly connected’ to the sale of goods and services.  Although this material on the website and Twitter page associates the Lush brand with the campaign, the opinions expressed are not directly connected to the sale of their products.”

It’s certainly advertising because it’s using a brand (Lush) to highlight an important and controversial issue. So whose remit is it to regulate this?

Marketing lessons?

What lessons can be drawn from a marketing point of view from this debacle?

  • Be really offensive and keep your brand in the news for ages, with positive or negative consequences.
  • Don’t run a campaign which you have to explain. Lush had to explain that they weren’t talking about all police officers. Not everyone knows about the undercover police issue and the picture states “paid to lie” with no reference to the whole story.
  • Think of your staff facing the backlash of your decisions. Many Lush staff had to face members of the public who were angry at the company’s handling of the issue.

What should Lush do now?

A PR disaster like this can cause serious damage to a brand if it is not properly handled. Perhaps Lush should now apologise to both sides of the debate and avoid getting involved in complex issues. It has returned to campaigning, perhaps being slightly less controversial, perhaps trying harder to explain the issue, but still without any apology?

The poster has a picture of a police officer with the slogan “paid to lie”. Does that indicate that they are calling all police liars? Despite what Lush says this is the message that has come across to anyone not fully aware of the inquiry.

What Lush co founder has to say

20 June 2018 The Guardian, in an article How the Lush founders went from bath bombs to the spy cops row, interviewed two of the co founders, Mark and Mo Constantine. In the article they say:

““I think we put a stick in a hornets’ nest and all the hornets came out and we got stung,” says Mark Constantine, one of Lush’s seven founders. “If you’ve put the stick in the nest you can hardly complain.””

There was a feeling that Lush was criticising the police as a whole. Were there things they could have done differently? “We worked with the groups and the victims and that [campaign] is what they wanted. They chose the words, the sentiment,” says Mark. He might have modified the campaign, but he felt it wasn’t up to the company to tell the victims what they could and couldn’t say. “It was a successful campaign. If we had done something that was less striking perhaps this issue wouldn’t have been so highlighted to people.””

“I thought it was unfortunate that it looked as if we were anti-police,” says Mo, “which had never been the intention.”

Over to you

Whilst I do think we need to raise awareness of the issues of what has gone wrong with the policy on police undercover investigations, was the original  Lush campaign the best way to do it? Is it much better now?  Is Lush insinuating all police are liars? Does it matter how it was done as it has made so many more people aware of the issues? Did you change your view?