Poor old Marks & Spencer.
Since 1992 it has boasted one of the most successful and beloved ‘faces’ of any retail brand.
Step forward Percy Pig – the squidge-faced swine whose ears are more nibbleable than any of those in M&S’s glamourous stable of celebrity endorsers.
Percy has remained a triumph of public relations, trotting through the ups and downs of the precarious retail market with his reputation not just intact but increasing as surely as the public’s waistlines by the ever-broadening range of family-related products.
But now the popularity that saw Percy reach number 11 on UK Vogue’s 2008 ‘hottest people and trends to watch’ while building a 250,00-strong dedicated Facebook following, has been showered in the PR equivalent of pigswill.
Public outcry has followed Percy’s reincarnation as a 100% vegetarian sweet treat, with Piers Morgan going into meltdown on national television and the Scottish Sun declaring, in arguably not overstated fashion: “The most sacred confectionery item on the market is over.”
To be fair to M&S, the move to replace pork gelatine in the Percy range came from a genuine desire to move away from animal-based products and make its sweets available to a broader customer base. Indeed, Veggie Percy received a warm welcome when it was launched in 2011.
The PR disaster seems to have been brought about because M&S broke its vital bond of trust with the public by sneaking new vegetarian thickeners into every single Percy sweet without letting his adoring public know that they were doing so.
As long-time acolytes currently in withdrawal from our daily Percy fix, the TRA team has to agree with fellow addicts who described the veggie versions as ‘like Blue Tack dipped in washing up liquid’.
But we feel M&S really dug itself deeper into the bad PR swamp with its statement responding to the public outcry.
“We have worked to keep Percy’s taste and texture as close as possible to the original recipe. Rest assured we haven’t changed any of the really important things that make Percy as great as he has always been,” ventured a spokesperson.
To which the TRA team, who would clearly overwhelmingly opt for ground up bone and gristle over potato starch and tapioca flour, responds by sharing another golden rule of PR – don’t tell fibs.