When PR goes ‘wrong’

Within the last week, we’ve seen a number of PR campaigns with good intentions being criticised and panned due to ‘poor execution’. With so much at stake, how damaging can a poorly planned campaign really be on a brand? And is it worth it? Let’s take a #BrutallyHonestPR look.

On 31st May, cosmetics company LUSH launched it’s ‘spy cops’ campaign across social media, on its website and in store displays throughout the UK. The campaign highlights what they claim is an “ongoing undercover policing scandal, where officers have infiltrated the lives, homes and beds of activists”.

The campaign itself has split opinion down the middle with many people on social media, including ex-law enforcement officers, current Chief Police Officers and the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, claiming the campaign attacks hard working members of the police force with many labelling the campaign disgusting.

On the other hand, MPs, Lawyers, victims and even publications such as The Guardian have come out in support of the company with many signing a letter defending the company and its campaign.

One thing is for certain, the ‘spy cops’ campaign has worked in some respects by bringing the spying problem to the attention of the masses, but at what cost?

In the face of backlash, many LUSH stores have felt the need to step back from the campaign and remove ‘spy cops’ from their front windows but the overall stance of the company has been that the campaign was not intended to be an anti-police campaign and serves only to highlight the human rights breaches committed by some undercover police. Which has worked immeasurably.

The effect the campaign has had on the company’s reputation is too early to tell. However, the company has seen a lot of press since the introduction of the campaign both positive and negative, with many people boycotting the beauty product retailer or championing its stance. It’s hard to deny they haven’t achieved the goal of press coverage though.

Also, within the last week we have seen a campaign by worldwide financial company Mastercard that coincides with the upcoming 2018 World Cup.

Mastercard’s campaign entitled “Goals that Change Lives” states that for every goal world renowned footballers Lionel Messi and Neymar Jr score from now until March 2020, the company will donate 10,000 meals to impoverished children in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The campaign has led to journalists, broadcasters and PR professionals asking why, if the company can afford to give away the meals, they don’t just give them away instead of undertaking what has been classed as a horrible publicity stunt by many on social media?

Further criticisms have stated that the pressure on the players to score goals would be immense. With goalkeepers also feeling the weight of saving those goals. Ending in guilt for denying the meals.

This effectively means that players like Messi and Neymar would have an unfair advantage in the competition.

Mastercard has responded to the criticisms levelled at it by stating that the ‘Goals that Change Lives’ campaign is part of its overall commitment to deliver 100 million meals to poverty-stricken communities and have said it is proud to have the opportunity to ‘use our brand and our brand ambassadors to raise awareness of this important cause.’

But is it too little too late? Now that the damage is done for connecting multibillion pound companies, multimillionaire footballers and the pot luck feeding of starving children.

The question we should take away from such campaigns is that of what is ethical?

Although noble in theory, these campaigns if not properly executed, can have a massive effect on the reputations of businesses and even though the above-mentioned campaigns have succeeded in bringing to light and opening up dialogues about important issues, how does it really effect business?

Is the old saying ‘There’s no such thing as bad publicity’ still relevant and is press coverage worth it in the age of outrage?

Weighing up the pros and cons of both campaigns, if your company was in the position to do the same. Would you?