Update: Lush provided this statement on Saturday afternoon: "Whilst intimidation of our shop staff from ex-police officers and unhelpful tweets from those in high office are ongoing, not all of our shops feel able today to have the campaign window in their shops. However the campaign is still running for three weeks and we will be constantly weighing up what to do about the situation." A spokeswoman also confirmed that external agencies were not used in the campaign.
The campaign aims to highlight the current Undercover Policing Inquiry, the government-backed probe into alleged instances of undercover police overstepping the mark to infiltrate the lives of activists.
Lush is stocking postcards addressed to Home Secretary Sajid Javid, which members of the public can sign, asking him to make changes to the inquiry; for example, by releasing names of the officers and to extend the inquiry to Scotland.
Lush, which is known for extolling its ethical credentials, is working with campaign group Police Spies Out Of Lives for the initiative. This has seen stores decked out in police-themed displays (image below is from Facebook group UK Cop Humour).
An Undercover Policing Inquiry is taking place, but many campaigners have a complete lack of confidence in the public Inquiry’s approach. We’re standing with them to put pressure on the UK government to make the Inquiry more effective, and we’re asking you to join us. 2/3— LUSH UK (@LushLtd) June 1, 2018
The campaign has met with a fierce backlash, with the National Police Chiefs Council accusing Lush of being insulting and damaging towards the police.
Javid was also highly critical:
Never thought I would see a mainstream British retailer running a public advertising campaign against our hardworking police. This is not a responsible way to make a point https://t.co/dZqF3iMN6U— Sajid Javid (@sajidjavid) June 1, 2018
At the time of writing on Friday evening, a snap Twitter poll by PRWeek found 92 per cent believe the campaign overstepped the mark.
Edelman UK CEO Ed Williams is among those who have criticised Lush’s move.
All the data points to consumers wanting brands to take a position on public issues. But it has to be relevant and the brand has to have authority on the topic. Unclear to me what "bath bombs" have got to do with the conduct of undercover police officers. https://t.co/ajgdCfkqSW— Ed Williams (@EdWilliamsUK) June 1, 2018
Other PR chiefs contacted by PRWeek were equally scathing.
Andrew Bloch, founder and group MD at Frank, said Lush is a brand with "a long history of dividing opinion and creating controversy", and its aim with this campaign was "clearly to create talkability".
"However, it appears to have badly backfired. The key to creating controversial campaigns is to come out of it smelling of roses, and in order to do this brands need to carefully think through all the potential implications and reactions that their campaign might generate.
"They need to think through every step and work out in advance what they are going to say. In this instance, the intentions behind the campaign have been poorly communicated, and the campaign appears to have been poorly thought through. As a result, this has led to mass consumer backlash."
Christine Jewell, MD of 3 Monkeys Zeno, said: "Lush has a long history of campaigning on social and political issues and their admitted approach is to divide opinion - which they have certainly achieved with this campaign. This isn't an easy issue to take on given the complexities. The shop front display doesn't clearly convey the message and appears to negatively target the whole police force, which has inflamed opinion.
"It falls into the category of campaigns that have good intentions at heart but fail through clumsy execution."
Lush has since responded to the backlash by insisting the campaign is not about denigrating the police.
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. (3/3) #SpyCops— LUSH UK (@LushLtd) June 1, 2018
Bloch added: "Lush has attempted to clarify and justify its campaign, but unfortunately for them, the damage has already been done. There is a validity in controversy, but not all the time and not controversy for controversy's sake. In this instance Lush went too far."
The campaign has received some support. Writing on Lush's website, the company has been praised for being "courageous" and the victim of people misunderstanding the meaning of the campaign.
One commentator writes: "Good work, Lush. I don't know why people are seemingly willfully ignoring the message that you're sending - that you're not criticising all police and that this campaign is taking a stand on a specific and confined topic - but I guess social media pitchforks are quick to get brandished."
Meanwhile, fellow retailer Poundland used the incident for some opportunistic marketing this afternoon.