The strength of a community can be measured by how quickly it gets back to normal after a major shock. One week after the civil unrest that gripped parts of London, normal day-to-day life has largely returned: shops are open, people are travelling about and the politicians are back on holiday after their brief visit to Westminster.
The daily rhythm of city is restored; the London community has showed its strength. This has been driven in part by business. Retailers have worked to re-stock and open, hoping to maintain their crucial turnover and margin targets. And the building trade has worked overtime – and made a good profit – to repair London’s scarred streetscape. Capitalism has cashed-in and helped to get the capital back on its feet.
But as the builders leave a new trade has moved in: the advertising industry.
A West End advertising agency called Engine – whose clients include Coca Cola, Nike, BMW and Santander – has launched a subtle marketing campaign on the back of the riots. Through one of its subsidiaries called Jam it has created some snazzy infographics that attempt to depict the unrest, or “riot buzz” as it describes it. The graphics and data behind them, which have been criticised by many bloggers for their lack of substance, have been sent to some community websites (including this one) in the hope of coverage.
The ad men have also launched a campaign on Twitter, which includes a downloadable ‘Twibbon’ that users can add to their profile pics. The purpose of the campaign? In the words of Jam: “Let’s show support for trying to spread a message of change and positivity across the UK after the riots and try to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
The agency would like us to believe that this all part of the zeitgeist of using social media to engender community spirit and cohesion. But one click on its webpage reveals a more telling story: “Jam understands how content, ideas, recommendations and opinions spread and how brands can be built or eroded in a connected world – but crucially, how simple conversations can lead to sales.” You read it correctly: sales.
As ‘Jim’ a blogger who posted a comment on the Jam website put it: “Possibly the most heinous example of an agency trying to promote itself through the ruse of good will I’ve seen in a while.” Jam defends the campaign saying that, “as a London based company we all felt the impact of the riots and wanted to show our support… Surely this is better than doing nothing at all”.
As the extraordinary clean-up campaign that was organised last week on Twitter demonstrates, online and social media has an important role to play in London, post-riots. But this is best organised by communities not marketeers.
ChislehurstNews, a not-for-profit community website, had a record number of visits last week on the back of our raw riot coverage. Across London many similar community websites like this one provided excellent on-the-ground reporting and information at a level that the mainstream national and local media could not get to. In South London, for example, Inside Croydon, Charlton Champion, Beckenham Town and 853 stand out as pioneers.
Business, trade, capitalism, community spirit; they have all played their part in getting London up and running again. What people don’t need at the moment is advertising flimflam on the back of the riots; people will only suspect an ulterior motive.