When crisis hits, it’s pretty hard to not act irrationally. War is something we’ve all learned about, particularly World War 2. And despite wars affecting countries across the world, the atrocities in Ukraine seem to shed light on our indifference to war that’s not on in our back yard. Atrocities like this prompt knee-jerk reactions from all companies. The fast-paced nature of the PR world makes it this way. But when these seemingly knee-jerk reactions gain such publicity, it’s important to scrutinise them

Follow the Leader

It’s important to note that Sainsbury’s announcement on Wednesday revealed they would donate £2 million to its charity partner Comic Relief. £500,000 of this will be matched donations from their customers nectar point donations. When all’s said and done, a donation has been made and that must be commended. But their announcement came at the dismay of some Twitter users, who insisted that they remove products that originate from Russia, like other big corporations had.

Sainsbury’s obliged, or so we thought. Whilst Russian vodka was hauled off the shelves, it was still available to buy online. Surely if you instruct over 1400 stores nationwide to remove all Russian products from the shelves, removing the said products from your online store should be a piece of cake? Obviously not. Although since the writing of this article it has now been removed. I have no doubt that many Russian Vodka fans would have ordered bottles in the bulk in light of the announcement. Sainsbury’s announcement would have drummed up a lot of demand, so was it a mistake to leave the vodka online? or a calculated error?

The oligopolistic nature of the UK Supermarket industry means that supermarkets are always trying to get the upper-hand on their rivals. Be it pricing, or PR. Sainsbury’s followed the actions of Morrisons, Co-op, and Aldi who had already removed Russian products from their shelves. But decided to go one step further and change the name of their products in what could be deemed as one-upmanship. Renaming a chicken Kiev is hardly going to instil fear into Putin and prompt a retreat.

Making a mockery of war

I’m not encouraging the dismissal of Russian products at all. Far from it. Cheap gestures like removing vodka from the shelves doesn’t really solve much. But changing the name of Chicken Kiev to chicken Kyviv almost makes a mockery of something very serious. All I can say is, this announcement had very “Daily Star” vibes, I often wonder whether Sainsbury’s hired the PR firm responsible for the PR activity of the Thursday dating app. There’s cheap PR, and then there’s that. Announcements like this often get labelled as gaffes. But Sainsbury’s would have had to have had this proposal approved by many in their leadership team. This wasn’t a gaffe, this was calculated.

Contributing to the demonisation of a country

The famous “Gotcha” headline from The Sun shows how capitalising on war can leave your reputation in tatters. Whilst this move by Sainsbury’s isn’t celebrating death, it is demonising a large portion of innocent people. How many Russians are there in the UK that are being punished for one mans actions? Independent Russian businesses are set to suffer from such an onslaught from the media and Supermarkets. During the early days of lockdown, many Chinese people and businesses suffered the same fate, but somehow the demonisation of Russia is encouraged?
As human beings we like to make things simple. Black and white. That’s the good country and that’s the bad country. But it isn’t as simple as that. In fact many in Eastern Ukraine would identify as Russian themselves. That is not to defend the actions of Putin, but more to defend the nation and people of Russia who are being completely demonised by the media , and the actions of supermarkets like Sainsburys. That’s why this trend seems to stink. It’s not helping anyone, and it’s demonising 145 million people. But who cares about that when you’re getting clout on Social Media?

Those in glass houses…

Sainsbury’s are well knowledgeable about how emotionally evoking war can be. Their Christmas advert some years ago left many teary eyed. But it isn’t something to be capitalised on. Moreover, if the people who own Sainsburys aren’t so squeaky clean themselves, then perhaps they shouldn’t be so hasty in pointing the finger. That’s not to say that companies who don’t have a squeaky-clean record should do nothing good. But more, they should be very careful at how they do these good deeds, as they will naturally be heavily scrutinised.  Of course, I’m referring to their major shareholder Qatar Holdings LLC, which is wholly owned by the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA). On the board of Qatar LLC is Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, who happens to be the deputy prime minister of Qatar.

Qatari Diar Signed An Agreement With Aryan Holding To Open Sainsbury’s in Lusail

According to Human Rights Watch, Qatar’s laws require women to have a male guardian’s permission to marry, regardless of age or former marital status. Once married, women can be deemed “disobedient” if they do not obtain their husband’s permission before working, traveling, leaving home or refusing to have sex with their male guardian without a “legitimate” reason.
Yet Sainsbury’s, whilst being owned by Qatar LLC only on Thursday revealed their plans to celebrate female founded small businesses for international womens day in order to coincide with the theme of #BreakTheBias. They also posted the following:

Imagine a gender equal world.
A world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination.
A world that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive.
A world where difference is valued and celebrated.
Together we can forge women’s equality

Sainsburys

Sainsbury’s have a history of trying to bring about social justice on their social media. But it seems almost a bit disingenuous to cry out for female equality considering who their major shareholders are. It seems disingenuous to drape LGBT decorations across stores whilst being owned by the deputy prime minister of a country in which homosexuality is illegal and can warrant the death penalty. It seems to me that this social justice they preach is disingenuous and just a marketing tactic. And with that being said, why would anyone believe that their Chicken Kiev/Kyviv name change was done in good faith? It seems to

What did others think?

So I decided to put the poll to both Twitter and Linkedin Users who are mostly Marketing and PR professionals. I asked them whether it was a show of solidarity or a cheap PR tactic, and overwhelmingly most believed it was just cheap PR. over 75% of all that answered believed it was cheap PR.