Stunts, lipstick, pigs, and COP26

Co-op26 street view

By Chris Owen, Director, Hoffman Europe

Earlier this week Co-op announced that six of its stores were to ‘rebrand’ as Co-op26 in line with what’s acknowledged as the most important climate summit we might see in our lifetime – COP26.

See what they did there?

Problem is, it begs the question that aside from a rather tenuous play on words, what does it actually bring to the table? Given the gravitas of the discussions at COP26, punning seems slightly gratuitous and gauche.

But it turns out there’s method behind the madness.

It’s part of Co-op’s bid to ‘spark conversation’ about the climate problems facing the planet, including a partnership with Count Us In. Online there are methods to pledge one of three goals – as well as hints and tips to do so.

And I guess what makes Co-op stand out as an ambassador for this is its very essence as a collective, based on people and community. Were a less socially conscious chain to attempt this, it could be taken as greenwashing.

This is where a tension lies. Part of my initial irk on this (see disclaimer below), was that this was a ‘stunt’ and I have a predefined reaction to the word. It carries connotations of cheap tricks and hoodwinks – “ha ha, made you look, made you stare!” It’s too often a means to a photo story.

(Important caveat before I get bombarded about calling stunts ‘cheap’, I know how incredibly difficult pulling off mass-awareness consumer activations is, and I could never do it. There are outfits who are masters of making everyone sit up and take notice, and they’ve rightfully won awards for it).

But back to my point. For something so important as COP26, what appeared to be a flash-in-the-pan rebrand based on having a similar name just seemed … crass.

But if you dig below the surface – exactly the action the ‘stunt’ intended – you find the purpose behind the picture. And it’s an important one.

So, I guess the question is whether the idea of a ‘stunt’ puts unnecessary gloss on something, and whether in doing so, it has the potential to cheapen it. Or does its very nature as an attention grabber mitigate this – after all, it’s very much risk versus reward.

Stunts can sometimes be used to put lipstick on a pig. But in some instances – such as this – are they putting lipstick on a thoroughbred?

Note, I reserve the right to have changed my opinion since my tweet about this.

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