Lush Quits Social Media: Protest or Strategy?
Georgia Traylor, Media Executive
On one of the biggest days of the year for sales – the U.S. import now familiar to all Brits known as Black Friday – ethical cosmetics giant Lush announced they were stepping back from Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat.
After whistle-blowers called attention to the negative impact social media sites such as Instagram have on users’ mental health, CEO and co-founder of Lush, Mark Constantine, said that the company had ‘no choice’ but to quit the platforms.
Leaked documents have thrown Facebook, now Meta, into increased scrutiny, detailing that the organisation is aware of the harm its platforms can do to the mental health of its users but has done nothing about it. Lush is not the only purpose driven brand who has stepped away; Patagonia recently called on others to join its boycott of Facebook, though their stance is more rooted in opposition to the fact that the platform’s algorithms promote hate speech than its negative effective on mental health.
Lush has a history of protest and are perhaps best known for their Fighting Animal Testing campaign, but have taken a hard line on a range of issues from single use plastics to LGBTQIA+ rights. They donate over £8M per year to charity and have been described as a campaigning organisation fronted by a soap shop. Lush have even announced that they were leaving social media before, switching off in 2019 for 9 months before the pandemic meant that returning was the only way they could continue to engage with customers.
The authenticity of their approach may be undermined by the fact that it has been attempted before, but Lush believe that now is the time to re-establish their position, and it feels somewhat disingenuous to judge a company based on the pivots they had to make in the face of something so unprecedented.
There is an estimated £10M in revenue at stake due to this move, which puts authenticity back into the picture; as DDB founder Bill Bernbach said, “A principle isn’t a principle until it costs you money.”
Lush will lose out on a following of over 10M on Facebook and Instagram alone, but their new strategy is not without merit. As consumers demand greater transparency, tech giants are phasing out third party cookies and companies must navigate new ways to both legally acquire data as well as own the customer relationship. The growing mistrust around social media platforms gives brands like Lush an opportunity to create a zero-party relationship with customers. Lush will build out their own community offering, likely investing heavily in their website and app, and will own all the data and insight generated from them.
Lush is stepping back from social media because the negative connotations it brings with it are no longer palatable to them and in this sense it is a protest.
However, it can also be seen as a wider business play, where Lush moves its focus from fighting against the algorithm for users’ attention to cultivating a more community based relationship with its audience.