Power to the People, Through Brands

July 19, 2018 | Share this article

by Charlotte Eagland, Initiative UK

Whatever you think about Lush’s recent campaign to raise awareness for the “Police Spies Out of Lives” support group, it’s refreshing to see a brand wade into a public debate with confidence and conviction.

How many brands would have been tempted to issue an apology and retreat with their tails between their legs on hearing the Home Secretary declare, “Never thought I would see a mainstream British retailer running a public advertising campaign against our hardworking police.”

Instead, Lush responded with maturity on their Twitter page, noting,

“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[i]…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.”

So why, as the public and private spheres continue to get closer in society, is a stand like Lush’s so rare to see from a brand?

Typically, we are used to seeing brands play on the edges of public debate, tipping their hats to cultural movements to demonstrate zeitgeist relevance. Think Pepsi and the infamous Kendall Jenner ad or Audi’s pro-gender 2017 Super Bowl commercial. It is not long before a lack of authenticity catches up with these brands. As one consumer psychologist said at the time, “the fact that Audi’s board does not have a single female member made people question…. whether the company was simply exploiting the equal rights movement for their own benefit.”

The problem lies with the fact that brands appropriate movements rather than genuinely involve themselves in them. It is not hard to imagine that the motivation behind most of these campaigns is the belief it will improve the brand’s perception with consumers or lead to increased sales. If a campaign then backfires and generates negative publicity, there is little reason for a brand not to backtrack as quickly as possible.

So does Lush’s stand suggest something else is at a play? Perhaps a genuine belief that raising awareness of the “Police Spies Out of Lives” campaign is necessary, and maybe more importantly, that they are in a position to do something about it. The sceptics amongst us may see brands and companies purely as instruments of revenue and profit, and consequently any communications from them as marketing. But, let’s not forget that Lush is a privately owned company, and in a world where the lines between work and home as well as private and public blur more every day, this feels like a simplistic way to see the world.

Yes, a brand is a symbol of a company and a company’s purpose is to generate revenue and profits, but it is still just a group of people. People who have values and beliefs just like we all do. As individuals of course, we can feel powerless, but perhaps as part of the brands and companies we all work in, we see we do have an opportunity to influence culture.

Working at Initiative we grapple with these ideas every day. Firstly, by helping our clients understand the cultures that exist around them and the real role they can play within them. And secondly, as the people behind the business, debating the state of UK culture and how we can all shape it

So I hope Lush’s stand encourages other companies to get involved in public debate. After all, it’s not like there is a shortage of injustice, inequality, and all round awfulness to fight against. Now more than ever may be the time for private opinions to become public.


[i] Take that Sajid Javid