‘I’m phoning you to ask for your help.’
The distressed Next customer called into the CARE offices on Friday afternoon about a T-shirt that depicted a woman in underwear in a provocative position under the heading ‘SINNERS’ with a definition of sin below including a Bible verse (Romans 7:1) from The Message version. ‘Is there anything you can do?’ she asked. Having explained that she had already registered a complaint directly with the company to no avail, she was looking for a bigger network with a campaigning voice. So I quickly put together a basic blog post focusing on the objectifying message about women and how using the Bible to encourage this was deeply offensive. Being more naturally at home on Twitter I began publicising the campaign there and was encouraged about how many others soon became involved. Particularly mention at this point goes to @sarasaith for her blog post that drew attention to Next’s Code of Practice and how this item contravened it at least two key points. As momentum gathered, individuals started messaging @nextofficial directly with their questions requiring individual responses. Then I realised that Facebook was the place for much of their customer service work and so posed a question for them there:
Friday at 15:14: Why are you marketing ‘Graphic T-Shirts’ with misogynistic poses of women in underwear and promoting such images using The Bible?
This brought in a few commenters, various likes and a response from Next that they were looking in to it. It all served to spread the message wider (bear in mind that Facebook users hugely outnumber Twitter users). Meanwhile the pressure was beginning to tell as a number of Twitter users with large followings encouraged others to join in (thanks to Evangelical Alliance, Vicky Beeching, The Vicar’s Wife and God & Politics UK amongst others). One interesting tweet was sent by @1SteveWade who asked whether the Conservative peer (and Chief Executive of Next), Simon Wolfson, was happy to sell this product. With such ‘noise’ created, a turning point was reached. I was contacted by a journalist at the Daily Mail who was interested in featuring the story. He had been following the online campaign and decided the story was worth following up – so after taking quotes (from others involved as well) he told me he was going to contact the Next PR department. What happened afterwards, I couldn’t quite believe. The journalist called back to say ‘Well done – they’re withdrawing it with immediate effect’. I was so stunned I asked him to say it again but sure enough the Next statements started to come out:
From Next’s Facebook page: “Dear all, thank you for your comments. We take all feedback very seriously. On reflection we agree it was a mistake for us to sell these garments and we are therefore removing them from sale.”
The journalist wasn’t sure his story would make it into the newspaper but later that evening the online story was posted followed by the print edition on Saturday. Next responded to individual complainants to break the happy news and various blogs (@echurchblog, The Vicar’s Wife) gave a brief summary. But this is a story that began with one distressed person and a cry for help.
A few lessons to draw:
- One person can make a difference- if the phone hadn’t been picked up it would have been a quiet Friday afternoon.
- Our Christian community and networks are well integrated and can be leveraged for very good purposes.
- We don’t have to share exactly the same concerns- some may have been more concerned about the image, others by invoking the Bible.
- We should use the media channels wisely- recognising that where the audience is greatest so the impact will be greatest (e.g. Facebook, national newspapers).
- Acting courteously is a non-negotiable- we may be distressed by something, but we should engage thoughtfully & applaud good decisions when they are made.
- We should help promote each other’s good work – this a team game and without wide participation we will be consigned to be ignored in a quiet corner.
If you have any other observations, do let me know in the comments section.
Thanks to God, thanks to friends & collaborators and thanks to Next for listening well and acting quickly.