The News of the World fiasco is inescapable this week and retailers and supermarkets have all been dragged into the debate over whether they should pull their advertising from the paper over the latest round of allegations of phone hacking. But perhaps the most noteworthy reaction has come from the Co-operative Group.
It was bad enough when The News of the World was found to be hacking into celebrities’ mobile phones to fill their gossip pages, but if it transpires that it has actually interfered with police enquiries and hacked into the mobile phones of murdered teenagers, mourning parents and victims of terrorist attacks – that’s abhorrent in the eyes of the public.
There has already been an overwhelming Twitter response calling for a boycott of the paper and any brand that doesn’t say it is at least reviewing its advertising stance with the News International title faces an angry backlash from consumers demanding to know why the company isn’t putting its money where its mouth is.
That becomes even truer for an organisation such as The Co-operative Group, which has built its reputation and brand on ethical practices. It was less than six months ago that The Co-op launched a heavyweight campaign positioning itself as an alternative to big businesses and urging consumers to join the “co-operative revolution” and find a more ethical way to do business.
The Co-op was one of the first big retailers to respond and I was taken by surprise that its initial response was that it would take no action and continue advertising.
It later made a u-turn on its original statement and said that it would, in fact, suspend its advertising with the paper until the outcome of an investigation was known.
The reason for its u-turn is of course that its members contacted the group in droves voicing their revulsion over the allegations of NOTW’s unethical tactics and urging the group to sever any connections with the paper.
I’m surprised that the Co-op, an organisation I wholehearted support and believe in, didn’t see this backlash coming.
In what world, would the Co-op’s members be OK with the group continuing to advertise within NOTW’s pages or online?
Despite the fact that these are only allegations at this stage, The Co-op has a duty to stand by its principles, and its members’ principles, on every level and should have known from the get go that they would demand action.
The Co-op badly misjudged how strongly the public would feel towards NOTW and how quickly this kind of decision needs to be made in the days of Twitter and 24/7 news.
Perhaps this demonstrates that despite its intentions and the strength of its convictions, the 167 year old mutual still isn’t quite in tune with the speed of the modern world where Twitter rules.