Beware the slogan. Why brands must remain wary of direct action


News that UK Uncut’s direct action against a host of companies that it accuses of “tax dodging” has failed to dent brand perception is fascinating if not altogether surprising.

Well reported occupations of Philip Green’s TopShop, and most recently Fortnum and Masons, have attracted plenty of coverage online and in print as well as debate on social media sites, but to date its cause has yet to park deep in the public’s consciousness.

There is a disconnect between opinion about (alleged, in this case) corporate level behaviour and your average punter’s everyday experience of Boots, Vodafone, Tesco, TopShop et al that is determined not by accusations of nefarious corporate behaviour but by the quality of their loyalty programmes, customer service and product offers.

There was also a gap between the rancour that was and still is aimed at the bankers following the financial crisis of 2008 and the relationship people have with their high street or online bank. Customers are more likely to be irked by an overdraft charge than their bank’s questionable trading in Colleterised Debt Obligations.

For UK Uncut, the tipping point might not have been reached yet, but that does not mean that brands should pat themselves on the back at a PR job well done.

Whether you sympathise with the pressure group’s argument or not, it can be admired for presenting a cogent argument that can be reduced to an easy to understand slogan on a placard, t-shirt or button badge. In contrast, the alleged “tax dodgers” hit back with complicated explanations of UK tax law.

If the UK economy continues to contract and unemployment continues to rise, people will look for someone to blame. If UK Uncut continues to make a clear case then public opinion could shift and perception of those brands accused could be reversed, especially if the Government is forced to concede to pressure placed on it by voters and look again at tax laws.

Brands need to continue, therefore, to develop and present an easy to understand case, overtly or otherwise via social media or via traditional PR activity. If they do not, they could end up on the wrong side of public opinion.

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