How Lush got it so wrong

 
Paul Blanchard
Follow Paul
An animal rights activist dressed as a g

I WASN’T THE only person whose jaw dropped. Lush, the cosmetics company, have unveiled a new anti-police marketing campaign. Through their social channels, website and shop windows, Lush have been promoting “Paid to Lie”, which purports to highlight “the ongoing undercover policing scandal, where officers have infiltrated the lives, homes and beds of activists.” When was the last time an advertising campaign was so bizarre, so offensive and so dangerous in equal measure?

Social media users were the first to react. Some called the campaign “disgusting”. Others called it “pathetic.” A former Lush employee, Sergeant Mike Duzinkewycz, said that Lush, with “its strong ethical foundation”, “should stand together” with the police. Everyone agreed that the campaign was ill-advised. Lush, through no one’s fault but their own, are neck-deep in a PR crisis.

Britain’s police force are rightly respected the world over. No one would disagree that the job of a police officer is a difficult one. They deal with difficult people. They are expected to be composed even when chaos is around them. The temptation towards heavy-handedness and even violence is strong when dealing with violent people. Yet our national police force polices by consent, not by force. They look to cooperate, not coerce. In a sentence, we’re lucky to have them.

Lush say they are criticising investigations that involve tricking women into sexual relationships or “spying” on civilians. They purport to be drawing attention to “human rights abuses”. If that is so, that is a noble cause, but they have executed their idea in entirely the wrong way, and it’s difficult to see how they might have arrived at the controversial “Paid to Lie” campaign if they didn’t deliberately want to court attention at the cost of accuracy and fairness. It’s no surprise then that this attention-seeking move has rubbed the public up the wrong way. No organisation is perfect, and the police have an extremely difficult job to do (to say nothing of the pressure and scrutiny they face every day.) What the public have inferred from this incident is that a makeup company known for its commitment to ethics is taking advantage of that reputation to ramp up business, even if that means taking aim at those who keep us safe.

I’ve been in the reputation management and personal PR game for decades. Advertising and PR overlap, but they’re not the same. Advertising is about creating paid announcements to be promoted through different media––online, print, TV, radio. PR, on the other hand, is more strategic. It’s about communicating, about building mutually beneficial relationships between organisations and the wider public. The key to it is in the name: public relations. It’s the art of developing a rapport between the man or woman in the street and the company in question. Though, like advertising, it requires creativity, storytelling and data, advertising seeks attention; the other develops a bond. The reason why Lush got this so wrong is that they put attention above the relationship, and now they will reap what they sowed. Their need for attention was put above the more subtle––and more important––art of trying to form a connection, a connection that may not lead to sales immediately, but will ensure long-term engagement and a positive profile in the media in the eyes of the public.

Critics of the campaign are calling for a boycott of the chain. My instinct is that it won’t be necessary. Even in a Britain partially fractured by the political developments of recent years, there remains a deserved respect for the police. When a company attacks the police for commercial gain, the public will not take it lightly.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.