The retail chain ran a free Christmas gift-wrap offer in a recent Saturday edition of the Daily Mail. Stop Funding Hate is a group that seeks to apply pressure on what they call sensationalist newspapers such as The Sun and the Daily Mail, by “getting Britain’s best loved brands to pull their advertising” from these titles. Using social media, the group managed to create a huge commotion and by Monday morning Paperchase responded with an apologetic Tweet promising to never do it again. The Daily Mail retorted “it is deeply worrying that Paperchase should have allowed itself to be bullied into apologising” and public opinion has been divided over the affair. Many Paperchase followers applauded their decision whilst other commentators thought it weak and that it could spell financial disaster for the retailer. The backlash even reached BBC’s Newsnight where Sarah Baxter, the Deputy Editor of the Sunday Times described the situation as “…a company being bullied by a small group of social media trolls”.
There is no doubt that the promotion was well intended and the readership of the Daily Mail was probably right for the offer. However increasingly small minority groups have proved capable of inflicting significant damage to a brand reputation through their power to communicate negative messages effectively. There are frequent calls to boycott many brands for ethical or environmental reasons – for instance the BBC dropped Crufts from its airtime after PETA highlighted the serious health issues of the dogs involved. Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus dropped Ivanka Trump’s fashion line because of the anti-Trump #GrabYourWallet campaign (there are 99 other companies on their list) and Ben & Jerry’s are amongst numerous brands boycotted by the Arab inspired BDS movement because of the brands positive relations with Israel. Even FedEx have been boycotted over their sponsorship of the Washington Redskins because of the clubs racially offensive name. Earlier this year, Pepsi caused a media sensation with TV advert featuring Kendal Jenner, supposedly making peace with both sides of an apparently ugly dispute that was deemed insensitive to the #blacklivesmatter movement. They were forced into making a grovelling apology.
The lesson here is that whilst brands need to seriously consider the ramifications of connecting with certain brands you simply can’t please everyone, all of the time, so the best advice is to plan for criticism. But sometimes it can do wonders for a brand’s reputation to act as a trailblazer or as a company ‘to do the right thing’ even in the face of certain public interest groups. There is no accounting for the public!