I bet the promotion felt like a great idea at the time. Free wrapping paper at Christmas – an idea that has occurred to plenty a media creative at this time of year. What’s not to like? Well plenty as it turned out.
Rather than looking like a generous brand offering a clever promotion at Christmas, it is now portrayed as a brand that is seriously out of touch with its customer base.
But is it really that simple?
I wonder how many of its customers actually objected? How many are readers of the Daily Mail? I suspect the brand assumed quite a few, otherwise why run the promotion?
The bottom line was that it was getting negative publicity and it felt it had to act.
Social media can sometimes feel like both a blessing and curse for brands.
It gives them unfettered access to people’s opinions and creates a direct and vital conversation between brand and audience, but it also creates opportunities for brands to be held to account by a relatively small percentage of its customer base.
To be fair to Paperchase, it sought customer opinion on the subject and promised to listen. It got 480 responses.
On the back of these responses it apologised to its customers and said that it would not carry out any more promotions with the Daily Mail.
Now I’m not going to comment on whether they did the right thing.
Only they know what is in the best interests of their brand and business. Nor am I going to attack or defend the editorial policy of the Daily Mail.
What I am going to defend is the freedom of the press and freedom of expression.
I am sure that there are plenty of people who are appalled by editorial and comment pieces in the Daily Mail, the Sun, the Times, the Guardian, Huffington Post and virtually every publication that has ever put ink to paper.
Let me be clear: People’s objections to what ends up in print are not only legitimate but a necessary and important part of a healthy society, and I’m not just talking about facts, but also opinion in this case.
But because a group of people object to these opinions does that mean that these media outlets are not worthy channels to reach customers?
Well, like all things, it depends.
If your customers read the Daily Mail, and I would imagine most mainstream brands have a proportion of customers who do, then ultimately you need to defend your advertising and promotional activity with them.
Otherwise, you’re explicitly saying that you frown upon them. How do you do this?
Well, I’d start by saying that you don’t agree with everything they print, but you respect their readers, which is why you advertised with them.
I’d add that although you don’t condone or agree with everything they write, you respect their right to print it, people’s right to read it and fundamentally you’re not in the business of passing judgement on them.
This is a much harder road to walk, but it is one that stands for something much bigger and more fundamental, namely freedom of expression.
As a wise woman channelling Voltaire once said, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."
Gerry Hopkinson is co-founder of Unity