The poppy appeal brand under attack

November 8th, 2010 by Jon Clements


Brands that could be considered sacrosanct are not immune from criticism – and sometimes from the most unexpected quarters.

This year’s Poppy Appeal, staged annually around the time of Remembrance Sunday to raise money for the work of the Royal British Legion, has attracted fire from veterans who accuse it of “showbiz hype” and being a “drum roll of support for current wars”.

The former military personnel claim that the true purpose of the poppy – to remind people of the “horror and futility of war is forgotten and ignored”.

The Royal British Legion fired back in its defence: “We are the natural custodians of remembrance but we are living in contemporary society…there is nothing in our appeal or campaigning which supports or, does not support, war: we are totally neutral.”

Nevertheless, it’s a tough one to defend when those who, in theory, should champion your cause take arms against it.

But do the veterans have a point? Does launching a campaign around a serious and sombre subject with girl group, The Saturdays, diminish its solemnity? Does it devalue the message that those who died in battle were the victims of human folly and we shouldn’t forget the stupidity of war?

But the risk the Poppy Appeal runs by looking trendy is nothing new. Eyebrows were raised in 1997 when the Spice Girls – at the height of Girl Power mania – were used to make the campaign more appealing to young people in light of falling revenues. But, as this PR Week analysis at the time shows, the risky move paid off.

It’s a balance the British Legion needs to strike; between being seen to muddy the message about war and being able to fund ongoing help for our military victims of conflict. And as the last remaining veterans from World War 2, and their tales of all-encompassing conflict touching millions, pass away, the more remote we become from the topic of war.

The Poppy Appeal is taking a pragmatic approach that clearly doesn’t please everyone. But if that means getting the judges of the currently most watched TV programme X Factor to wear poppies – prompting questions on Twitter as to what they are – the British Legion is making the best job of a sensitive situation.

About Jon Clements

Jon Clements is a Chartered PR consultant specialising in B2B PR, corporate and marketing communications and is the founder of Metamorphic PR. Connect at: JonClements ''

5 Responses to “The poppy appeal brand under attack”

  1. Ann Wright Says:

    I agree with you. I feel very close to this issue, as I worked for many years on the Remembrance Sunday programme for the BBC, and have interviewed many veterans. It is a difficult one, and I’ve felt uneasy about the use of poppy avatars as rather commercial, something I know that most veterans would abhor. However, we have to be realistic about society and what presses it’s buttons nowadays, so if that means reaching out to a younger generation by whatever means possible, then RBL should do so.

  2. Jon Clements Says:

    Thanks for your comment.
    I agree – it’s a tough one. On one hand, the ease with which you can upload a poppy to your Twitter avatar doesn’t necessarily involve a lot of thought about why it’s there. On the other hand, there’s a younger generation who won’t ever know a father or grandfather who had anything to do with war and their experience of conflict will be limited to TV news coverage or Call of Duty games. Getting them to remember something annually that couldn’t be further from their experience needs new ways of working.

  3. Jerry Says:

    Interesting post Jon.
    I belong to the generation that had grandfathers and fathers in the Second World War.
    I have a Poppy on my twitter avatar, to show that I remember the sacrifice former generations made so I could live the wonderful life I have.
    I made a donation to the poppy appeal, to a bored scout outside my local supermarket.
    Anything that reminds anyone, whatever the generation, of the sacrifices made during such terrible conflicts is a good thing.
    I do not feel it glorifies wars or conflicts, just as a pink ribbon does not glorify Breast Cancer, it expresses empathy, and sympathy.
    I remember the fuss about the Spice Girls, but it worked. Like any ‘business’ marketing has to evolve to appeal to a new generation and new ways of thinking.
    Good job Jon.

  4. Jon Clements Says:

    Thanks for your comment Jerry.
    You’ve summed it up really!

  5. Anthony Devenish Says:

    Great post mate.

    Upon first look, using The Saturdays for a campaign such as this; seems a little off. Yet i totally agree with Jerry in that reaching out to younger audience, using techniques that will resonate with them and get the deeper message across can only be a good thing.


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