“I love you. You know that, right?”
If TV’s taught us anything, it’s this: Never trust anyone who says that.
The U.K. arm of vegan cosmetics brand Lush has had a riotous few days. It started Friday, when the company released a cryptic ad across social under the hashtag #SpyCops. It depicts a woman in her kitchen, having a charmed moment with the man in her life.
All’s not well here, if the dark shadows and menacing music didn’t say that already. Mr. “You know that, right?” is actually an undercover cop who’s crept into her heart to take her down … because she’s an activist.
A series of tweets explains what the work’s about. “Undercover police officers have infiltrated the lives, homes and beds of activists since 1968. Their roles were to infiltrate political groups and collect ‘intelligence’ about planned demonstrations and the individuals involved,” Lush U.K. writes.
“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. Find out more and get involved here.”
This last tweet links to a feature titled “Exposing the spy who loved me,” which describes a surreal series of events torn right out of The Americans. In it, we learn about police units like the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), “a secretive undercover branch of the Met police, designed to infiltrate British activist and campaigning groups.” Among their modus operandi, undercover officers seduced women into relationships. Set up 50 years ago, it apparently operates nationwide.
In addition to a social campaign, approximately 100 Lush U.K. stores mounted window dressings featuring police officers with the words “paid to lie” stamped across their bodies, along with fake police tape that reads, “Police have crossed a line.” Some stores have since taken the work down.
Response to the campaign has been passionate, with those against the campaign disseminating hashtag #FlushLush. Comments run the gamut from accusing Lush of cheap publicity stunts to claiming the company is attacking police officers wholesale. Calum Macleod, chairman of the Police Federation union in the United Kingdom, said that “all it serves to do is to criticize police officers and encourage an anti-police sentiment.”
But there’s also support for what people feel is a brand calling out a serious issue with little awareness.
Lush sees itself as more than a soap-slinger for chic millennials that dig organic products and “naked” packaging, and the causes to which it lends itself vary. Its Charity Pot Foundation professes support for small grassroots organizations in sectors including “animal protection, the environment and human rights,” per the brand. In February of last year, it launched the Friendship Fund, a campaign to help welcome and settle Syrian refugees. Sales of its $5.95 “Hand of Friendship” soap were distributed to groups throughout North America. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg: The brand once blocked a runway at London Heathrow to protest an expansion, occupied Westminster Abbey to oppose disability benefits cuts and campaigned against border controls.
“This is a core part of what Lush stands for,” said Damien Mulley of Mulley Communications. “Have you never looked at their window displays and the campaigns they highlight? Enviro, anti-nuke, immigration, disability, women’s rights. Plus, the spycops have been operating in the UK and Ireland, infiltrating the groups that they support … [#SpyCops has] already gotten attention that the Spycops group never got.”
That attention is more positive than negative—and perhaps not just for victims. Hootsuite EMEA consultant Adrian Cockle shared the following chart that highlights how the #SpyCops hashtag is faring versus #FlushLush: