Part of the problem or part of the solution?

Increasingly brands must decide if their actions will cast them as hero or villain.  It is all too easy for old, once successful behaviours to put your brand on the wrong side of fast changing public expectations and opinion.

Unsolicited package

Yesterday I was the unlucky recipient of a fantastic example from Owl Barn Gifts.

I got one of those annoying Post Office ‘we couldn’t deliver can you come and collect from the sorting office’ notes through my door.  When I finally got there what I received was a huge, unsolicited package from Owl Barn Gifts.

This is a mail order company that casts itself as supporting Britain’s countryside and wildlife (including sponsorship of the Suffolk Owl Sanctuary).

Their unsolicited package did not include any explanation, but it did feature the most disgusting polyester cushion imaginable (hilariously branded as the ‘passing wind railway company’) plus catalogue.  I assume they hope I will be inspired to buy more of the same.  But to me, and I would guess to increasing numbers of others, this smacks of the worst kind of 1980’s style throw-away culture.

I have been made an unwillingly participant in a gross cycle that stretches across the globe from oil well to landfill.  Adding insult to injury to avoid being complicit in this cycle of needless waste I must now repackage and return it to the folk at Owl Barn Gifts.  Having worked with the esteemed Direct Marketing guru Drayton Bird for many years I am well aware that free promotional gifts have a long, largely financially successful tradition.  This example however is poorly conceived, poorly targeted and flies in the face of growing public awareness.

I’d love to talk to a representative sample of their customers and find out how they feel.  Does the thought of thousands of unused synthetic pillows going straight to landfill make them think of Owl Barn Gifts as part of the problem or part of the solution? Do they care?

What do you think?

My experience is that companies have no choice but to spend more effort understanding changing customer opinions and expectations or they can quickly find themselves on the wrong side of history.