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PR Stunt Watch: TFL rebrands London's Overland Lines and Bollywood's Poonam Pandey didn't die of cervical cancer!

Credit: London Overground Lines, credit TFL

Being a Londoner from London, I have great affection for the London Underground. I love its history, I think it’s easy to navigate and it makes our capital one of the smallest, biggest cities in the world.

Being a Londoner from London, I have no such affection for the London Overground. It’s got no history, it doesn’t seem to stop at anywhere I need to be, but more importantly - it is unquestionably more confusing.

At the root cause of this problem, is that the London Overground is not a line. It is a series of lines with more branches than Natwest and more split-ends than a surfer’s High Barnet. A more fitting nickname for ‘The Ginger Line’ would be ‘The Heinz Spaghetti Line’ – an interlocking, overloaded bundle of orange mess.

TFL

The best PR campaigns tend to be ideas that fix problems, so when you look at the TFL’s decision to rename the lines through that lens – you can see the thinking and I really like it.

The Lioness Line is fun to say, appeals to our nation’s love of sport and it is a route for Wembley. The Weaver Line is a clever touch that sounds distinct, taught me something I didn’t know about my city and could help tourism and local businesses market themselves as part of London’s design history.

The Mildmay line feels like a classy nod to a noble bit of HIV/AIDS history and though the Liberty Line felt a little bit barrel-scrapey, it was fundamentally harmless. The only complaints about the Suffragette Line seem to be centred around it being tricky to say.

Naming a line ‘The Windrush Line’ was always going to get the GB News viewers in a tizz, but what was perhaps less expected is the volume of anger directed at it from members of London’s black community.

The coverage for this ‘all change please’ campaign has gone all around the world, but it has also provoked an incredible wave of ‘whataboutery’. 

When you’ve been subjected to a hostile environment and are still waiting on compensation, does ‘The Windrush Line’ feel more like a piss-take than a tribute? When your council flat is riddled with damp, does the Mayor’s Office decision to spend £6m on tube lines feel like a slap in the face? However much it tries to justify itself, does this name-change campaign feel too showy rather than true solution?

Truthfully, I don’t have the answers to these questions, but perhaps it raises another question about the role of stunts when people are skint.

If you go big spend when your consumer is looking to cut spend, you open yourself up to ‘whataboutery’. If you go big on serving C-suite purpose, instead of saving consumer purse strings - you will do the same.

Government campaign expenditure will always get more scrutiny than others, but there is a cautionary tale for brands here too – if your stunt feels too showy, maybe save it for when the sun is shining.

Credit: Poonam Pandey Twitter

Bollywood actress Poonam Pandey doesn't die of cervical cancer

Two of PR’s best stock phrases? ‘It’s PR not ER’ and ‘at least nobody died’, so imagine my intrigue to be reporting a PR stunt than involves someone dying…sort of.

In case you missed it, Bollywood actress Poonam Pandey died of cervical cancer last week aged only 32. It was confirmed on her official Instagram page and then widely reported around the world. To give you a sense of UK comparison, she has about 1.5m followers – so roughly on a level with the most popular Love Islanders, so this was big news. There was just one catch…she hadn’t died.

Just a day after her "death", Pandey posted a video saying that she had "faked her demise" and that the Instagram post was part of a social media campaign to create awareness about cervical cancer.

"Suddenly we all are talking about cervical cancer, aren't we?" Ms Pandey says in the video, adding that she was "proud" about what the news of her death "was able to achieve".

Suffice to say, this was somewhat controversial.

The uproar was overwhelmingly negative with the vast majority condemning the stunt, but the ethical debate continues to rage. Poonam Pandey is being sued by some, lauded by others and it’s starting to become abundantly arguable that this stunt worked. The Indian government has fast-tracked an HPV vaccine and awareness was spectacularly raised during the campaign.

Was it bad taste? Absolutely. Does that matter? That’s for individuals to decide, but for me – the ends justify the means. Cancer thrives in secrecy, it spreads in ignorance and it doesn’t care about bad taste.

When it comes to cancer, a lack of an awareness is deadly. Maybe that’s worth fake dying for.

This week's PR Stunt Watch was written by Greg Double, Creative Director at Mischief PR.

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