• Transform magazine
  • October 21, 2018

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Cosmetics brand Lush launches controversial #SpyCops campaign

Lush cosmetics.jpg

Given that Lush’s usual product selection spans soaps, shampoos and exotic natural ingredients, it was a surprise to shoppers when the high street brand unveiled its latest campaign. Focusing on what it calls ‘Spycops,’ Lush has disrupted its usual bath bomb-covered and soap-oriented window displays with faux crime scenes and police tape.

Yet, while causing some critics to question Lush’s brand purpose, others suggest the brand has reached the pinnacle of authenticity.

In partnership with Police Spies Out Of Lives, the UK-wide support group for people with lives affected through contact with undercover police officers, on June 1 Lush began its controversial campaign in-store, on its website and across its digital channels. Focusing on the Special Demonstration Squad, or what it dubs ‘Spycops,’ an ostensibly defunct branch of the UK’s police force designed to infiltrate protest groups, the brand aims to draw attention to, and gain justice for, women deceived into relationships with undercover officers.

“We are delighted that Lush are supporting us with this national campaign which will help to raise awareness of our story,” says victim ‘Andrea' in a Lush press release. “As victims of abusive undercover policing we are dismayed by the current situation with the inquiry… There can be no healing without truth.”

But, while the Lush brand is built around its championing of ethical causes, its #SpyCops campaign has understandably raised some eyebrows. Usually focusing its efforts on less controversial social-environmental movements, such as selling only 100% vegan products and launching transgender rights campaigns, pursuing an avenue made complex by law and legislation is causing a backlash towards the brand across social media.

A large consideration and perhaps unfortunate oversight by Lush is the British feeling towards its police force, arguably strengthened in the past two years following a spate of disasters and a terror attack in which an on-duty officer was murdered outside the Houses of Parliament. The brand has been accused- not least by home secretary Sajid Javid - of being ‘anti-police’ and dismissing the vital work done by police to keep communities safe.

Lush denies this claim, with the brand saying its intentions centre around gaining closure for the ‘spy cop’ victims. Lush also wants to uses its significance and visibility as a high street brand to promote urgency behind the public enquiry, now delayed until 2023. For the brand, its currently unprecedented level of media coverage could be a cause for celebration - after all, the campaign remains relevant to Lush’s highly ethical stand point. And, according to the Guardian, two former wives of ‘spy cops’ say the high profile campaign has done more to draw attention to their plight than any government pushes.

"When Theresa May launched this public inquiry we all hoped that the truth about this scandal would finally be exposed and that the disgraceful police tactics would be examined” says Rebecca Lush, charitable giving coordinator at Lush and environmental activist. “Instead, the public inquiry chair is making the inquiry more secretive and is granting the police anonymity in secret hearings. It is time the home secretary listened to the victims and appointed a diverse panel to hear the full evidence.”

While controversial, the backlash against Lush is perhaps borne more from confusion than vitriol. It is undeniable that women who became victims of the Special Demonstration Squad are right in pursuing truth and justice; few people deny it. However, seeing only the stark imagery and slogans seemingly disputing police integrity in shop windows may seem a juxtaposition in brand purpose for Lush - first and foremost recognised as market leaders in bespoke toiletries.

A lack of clear communication on Lush’s part is the point at which consumer trust is being called into question. The drive behind its new campaign is noble, but Lush has failed to effectively communicate why #SpyCops matters - and why it’s not a dig at the entire UK police force. Perhaps, even for a highly political brand as Lush, this is one brand extension too far.

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Lush has long been known as a progressive brand with admirable values. But, writes Sean Masters, is the #SpyCops campaign based on authenticity - or merely a well-crafted publicity stunt?

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With creative license being so subjective to individual opinion, it is unlikely that you’re going to get a positive reaction from everyone when developing advertorial content. But Lush’s latest ‘Spy Cops’ campaign appears to have had greater criticism than most, jumping head first into the news last week. Receiving over 19,000 negative reviews on Facebook, it is clear that this campaign hasn’t attracted the desired attention, but they’re certainly now at the forefront of everyone’s mind. Taking all of this into consideration, could it be argued that this was an intentional move by the cosmetics retailer?

Advertising has to engage with an audience, it’s a competitive market, therefore it is important for brands to stand out. To do this they need to create strong campaigns that will cause their audience to stop and think. Lush has definitely tried to just that. The campaign is bold, it’s powerful and in places appears to be provocative for the sake of being so - all vital attributes for creating a campaign that will enter the territories of controversial advertising.

With that being said, Lush is known for its ethical campaigns, fighting for animal welfare and human rights, therefore the ‘Spy Cops’ campaign completely aligns with their core messaging. And whether purposeful or not, it is clear that the cosmetics brand is still creating eye-catching, relevant content upholds their brand values. It is important to remember that it is those brands who create content that is understood by and feels authentic to their targeted consumers, who will build a reputable and long-standing relationship with their audience.

Sean Masters is creative director and partner at Masters Allen