Friday, 25 September 2015

Death: at least make it profitable

Occasionally, you see a publicity stunt so inept, so tone-deaf, that you wonder how it got through the planning stage. Here's a humdinger folks.

This morning I got an invitation to the university's Macmillan Cancer Coffee Morning. I decided to  go along, if I'm free. I'm largely against death in general and I've had enough friends and relatives die of cancer in recent years for me to be against the misery and suffering of that particular diseases for me to want to support efforts to prevent or cure it.

Then this Tweet caught my eye:

Isn't that sweet? A massive engineering firm helping its employees contribute to curing cancer in a fun and cute way.

Hold on a minute. BAe Systems Air? I'm sure that rings a bell. I know that 'Systems' is a nice bland word that doesn't give much away but there's something nagging away at the back of my mind.

Ah, yes, that's it. BAe Systems is British Aerospace as was, and BAe Systems Air makes big fast stuff.

What kind of big fast stuff? Well, Typhoon fighter-bombers and Paveway IV bombs, amongst other things. Just for you students of Anglo-Saxon literature there's also a Beowulf all-terrain vehicle, described as 'poetry in motion': Auden apocryphally said that 'poetry makes nothing happen' but the Beowulf can insert heavily-armed killers into any crowd of pesky protestors in minutes.

And they don't just make this stuff: they 'support' their own customers just like football teams have sponsors. BAe Systems has picked the cutest underdogs in the league: the Sultanate of Oman, a violent dictatorship rated by Freedom House as 'not free'.

So that's BAe Systems. I guess their PR department knows that it needs all the love it can get, between the core business of providing mass death to any customer, no questions asked, and the awkward business of all those bribery and corruption allegations and convictions. A coffee morning for charity, heavily promoted on social media is just the ticket.

But what of Macmillan Cancer Care? I know it's hard to say no to eager volunteers, but did nobody at HQ wonder if a charity working hard to prevent suffering, misery and death might look a teensy bit hypocritical hosting an event and taking money from a company whose whole raison d'être is the aforesaid suffering, misery and death. Perhaps they had a big banner hanging above the coffee and cakes: 'Death From Above, Not From Within'. Perhaps they can have a little competition like the Great British Bake-Off?

Ah yes. The Bombe Surprise. It's hard to pick just one winner when your normal method is to kill them all and let God sort them out.

Oh look: double points for this one as it manages to promote the company, grovel to its customers and threaten death from above, all the while polluting the timeline of a cancer charity.

Perhaps there's a perfectly rational way of looking at it. From BAe's perspective, every cancer victim is a potential target lost. It is clearly not against premature and piteous deaths, it just wants to find the profit in it, and quite frankly carpet-bombing is far more efficient than cancer (and besides, quite a few munitions are subsequently carcinogenic to the inhabitants of the unfortunate lands visited by their customers). So if Macmillan cares to open an outlet in say Syria, it's guaranteed some repeat customers. Everyone's a winner!

Joking aside, this is a superb case study for PR students. For Macmillan a nice idea has become appropriated by a major arms manufacturer to whitewash its reputation: for both BAe and Macmillan it's an object lesson in giving a moment's thought to the credibility of your activities. If this story grows, they'll have a representative on the airwaves trying to normalise what it does, and claiming that events like the cancer coffee morning demonstrate what a good corporate citizen it is: we see the same thing when Labour MPs in places like Barrow defend the retention of nuclear weapons because it 'provides employment': in the short term, it does. In the long term, as Keynes put it, we are all dead, and I guess the survivors of a nuclear exchange can find fresh employment burying the remains and decontaminating the scorched earth.

As for me: I think I'll find a cancer charity that doesn't think it's OK to be used as part of a PR campaign. Though weirdly, this happened:

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