James Barisic, from Social:haus, discusses how he campaigned against toy retailer Hamleys from using live animals in its stores

During the evening of Monday 29 November last year, my co-host on the photography and law podcast PhotoLegal, wildlife photographer Darren Hector, found out that toy retailer Hamleys was due to use live penguins in its flagship Regent Street store in London for promotional purposes in the run up to Christmas. After a little digging we found that it was also due to have reindeer in store and in its Glasgow store too. It seemed odd to both of us that Hamleys, a shop that only needs to be open to attract crowds, would want to use live animals in store and we set about persuading it to change its mind.

Strategy

Both Darren and I are former political campaigners and we remain well connected in media and politics. I devised a campaign to put our combined contact list to work along with a crowd-burst campaign online.

Online, we used Twitter as a primary focus to spread the word with a Facebook page to allow people to congregate and share material. The campaign’s aim was to persuade Hamleys to not use live animals for Christmas promotions, and we used the #sHamleys hashtag to provide a common thread to Tweets. We targeted key influencers in various sectors to ensure that the message spread as widely as possible and not just among the usual animal welfare groups.

Offline, we used a few techniques – both direct contact and messages ‘dropped’ near key people – to ensure that the message got ‘traditional traction’. Our concern was that Hamleys was not regularly using social media and there was a chance that it would not see the message spread online. So we used a hard-hitting tagline: ‘Hamleys – the World’s Most Appalling Toy Store’, to make sure that if it did see the message, it would not look away.

The offline coverage was the key to ensuring that Hamleys was drawn online. We soon had BBC Radio covering the event on various outlets, regionally and nationally, and coverage in The Sun, the London Evening Standard and on Sky News to count just a few. It then went international, first to Ireland, then America and then Mexico.

We were very much in two minds as to how to approach the politicians as we did not want to be seen to be using our own contacts and make it party political. Fortunately, Jo Swinson MP (Lib Dem, East Dumbartonshire) saw the campaign and offered support that she has continued to provide ever since.

As campaigns go, we used a few new tricks and strategies, but it was as old-fashioned a campaign as you could hope to see. Lots of people organised into a group, galvanised around a simple message – the difference was the way we used social media to spread it.

The other thing was that I ensured that there was a ‘kill-switch’ strategy. The danger was always that the message got out of control and we could not stop it if Hamleys changed its mind. I doubt that there was anybody involved in the campaign that wanted to damage the Hamleys brand – it is a special brand and part of all our childhoods. When Hamleys did eventually decide not to use animals, we stopped the campaign – the messages stopped within about 90 minutes.

Results

The results, other than Hamleys changing its mind, were quite spectacular. In 80 hours, campaign Tweets reached 750,000 people and, between them, those people received 2.9 million Tweets – just using the #sHamleys hashtag. On top of that, there were a large number of non-tagged Tweets, newspaper coverage on three continents, and broadcast media coverage in two countries.

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