Walking to work this morning, as usual, I passed the vast retail behemoth that is Selfridges. For the past month, its long line of prime, retail windows have been full of marine imagery and statistics on overfishing, all in support of Project Ocean, a partnership with over 20 environmental groups.
In terms of publicity for the Project, a suspended, apparently swimming panda in an Oxford Street shop window was certainly eye-catching and, judging by the interest from the general public, it registered as a successful stunt. This display was the latest in a series of attention-grabbing window scenes by Selfridges, which are usually designed to draw the customer into the shop within.
Even Greenpeace, who are traditionally wary of backing large, corporate-funded events, were quick to throw their weight behind the installation, mentioning it on their blog, and referring to Selfridges as ‘the best department store in the world’.
Today, however, Project Ocean had gone. The panda, the sparkly sign and even the quote from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall had all vanished. Instead, ‘sale’ signs were plastered across every window; with one displaying the particularly bold claim ‘it’s practically free’. Apparently Selfridges was back to business as usual.
Here lies the problem for corporations looking to partner with charitable causes. Any campaign, by its nature, has to come to an end. However, there remains a chance that the sudden return to all-out commerciality could leave a bitter taste in the mouth of consumers who had engaged with a particular initiative.
This certainly seemed to be the case when F.C Barcelona recently announced that they would be relegating UNICEF – a name they had previously borne for free – to the back of their shirt. This was to make way for a record €30 million per-season deal with Qatar Sports Investments.
Evidently, partnership deals drive business, and to turn down a lucrative venture would represent foolhardiness in the extreme, but the issue of picking up and dropping certain campaigns, as-and-when it suits could be bad for business long-term.
Perhaps I’m being too cynical. Project Ocean will still retain a partnership with Selfridges and, as mentioned, UNICEF will remain on the shirts of one of the biggest football teams in the world. But with CSR issues remaining a watchword in boardrooms across the country, it isn’t unreasonable to expect stakeholders and consumers to ‘wise up’ as to when the line between publicity and charity work appears to become somewhat blurred.
For this reason, I hope I am proved wrong and that we will see a swift return to the ocean for Selfridges and Lionel Messi pointing to the UNICEF logo emblazoned across his back as Barcelona ply their trade next season. Based on these cases, I would argue that for charity affiliation – much like a Champions League campaign, or successful retail sales – consistency remains the key.