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The problem with Sainsbury’s latest campaign and why it went viral

A new marketing campaign released by Sainsbury’s has gone viral for being completely tone-deaf about women’s safety. The adverts’ timing makes its sentiments even more ridiculous, as a culture of violent sexual misconduct by serving Metropolitan Police officers is brought to light.

Here we go again.

You’d think that with great efforts to improve inclusivity at big corporations, especially inside marketing departments, copywriting oversights like the one spotted in Sainsbury’s latest campaign would no longer be commonplace.

Yet here we. The British grocer has released a campaign suggesting that its slinky wrap dress is a perfect outfit for women to wear when having a ‘stroll after dark’. Thousands on Twitter ­have had a collective laugh in disbelief.

Any woman will tell you that donning a dress during broad daylight will attract leers and catcalls from male bystanders in public. They’ll also tell you that rather than ‘strolling,’ most of us are pacing and bracing ourselves when forced to walk in the dark.

Though it remains unclear whether the now-removed ad was co-signed by women working at Sainsbury’s, its timing is especially unfortunate. It has just been announced that 1,000 serving Metropolitan Police officers are being investigated for domestic abuse and sexual offences.

The dark and misogynistic culture within The Met looms alongside reports of women being spiked by injection inside nightclubs or murdered at the hands of policemen in recent years.

These endless instances of violence – and complete obliviousness in mainstream marketing campaigns – have left women wondering how long it will be before our safety concerns are taken seriously.

Of course, the campaign put out by Sainsbury’s is a major oversight by the board of marketing ‘experts’ who cleared it.

Responses online asked, ‘what number of people does this get passed by to get this far?’ Others stated, ‘I assume she’s wearing trainers and carrying her keys between her fingers.’

Many who have seen the campaign say it indicates that Sainsbury’s has yet to employ enough women in its creative department. This is an issue in itself, one that likely harms its brand image if not resolved.

I say this because Gen Z has the highest expectations for diversity and inclusion across the board than any generation before.

As a result of practically being born with a smartphone in their hand, Gen Z also has the highest level of media literacy and is quick to share content that exposes the murkier side of major companies.

If Sainsbury’s wants to harness this generation’s buying power, it can’t afford to release bogus campaigns that get a fundamental component of half the population’s experiences so drastically wrong.

And while some social media users might be able to get an ironic chuckle out of a tone-deaf marketing blip, all comic relief is squashed at the realisation that if something did happen on a so-called ‘stroll in the dark,’ ringing the police might not make things any better.

Ever since the murder of Sarah Everard by a serving police officer in 2021, many questions and suspicions have been raised by the public towards the Metropolitan Police.

The case itself was so horrendous that it made international headlines and resulted in London’s Mayor calling for Met Police chief Dame Cressida Dick to resign.

Resign she did, but not without escaping accusations of downplaying the Sarah Everard case or the dangerously misogynistic culture festering inside her police force.

By early 2022, acting Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Stephen House would offer a change of tone. He publicly admitted that reports of misconduct in the police force are not just the doings of ‘a few bad apples.’

He promised to crack down on it.

It is now 2023, and a high-ranking Met Police officer – and close colleague of Sarah Everard’s murderer – David Carrick has just pled guilty to committing at least 49 serious sexual offences, including the rape of 12 women, over the last two decades.

He has been labelled one of Britain’s most prolific sex offenders, committing all of these crimes right under the nose of the police force. The case has triggered immediate investigations into at least 1,000 members of The Met.

On Twitter, users have suggested that ‘entirely new organisations’ be set up alongside the Met Police to handle reports related to women’s safety. This would increase the likelihood of complaints being taken seriously, without being brushed off by offenders working inside The Met themselves.

At the end of the day, eliminating numerous ‘bad apples’ does little to pacify women’s fear for their safety. Especially in the case that subtle misogynistic attitudes or cultural oversights are left unchecked – whether they happen inside a police force or on a marketing board.

It all counts.