The Home Office's controversial anti-knife crime campaign targeting chicken shop customers has 'never been about race' – and has been 'politicised', says one agency boss involved in the wider initiative against knife attacks.
Chicken boxes featuring the #knifefree campaign branding were distributed to more than 210 chicken shops, including those owned by Morley’s, Chicken Cottage and Dixy Chicken. Inside the boxes are real-life stories of young people who stopped carrying knives and focused on positive activities.
The chicken shop campaign met with a backlash, with prominent Labour MP David Lammy criticising its use of an "age-old trope" of linking black people and fried chicken. PR professionals also slated the move.
A number of agencies are involved in the #knifefree campaign, although none have admitted to PRWeek that they were behind the chicken shop element.
The boxes had been reported as deriving from a partnership between media agency All City Media Solutions (ACMS) and chicken chain Morley's, which trialled the scheme earlier this year.
However, ACMS co-founder Anitha Ilangovan told PRWeek the chicken box idea "has always been from the Home Office", later clarifying that this meant an agency hired by the government department.
She said ACMS "helped facilitate some of the boxes being distributed".
ACMS installed digital screens featuring the #knifefree message in chicken shops last year, Ilangovan said.
"We launched the #knifefree campaign with the Home Office as part of a much wider media strategy to target young people aged 10-21 from all backgrounds. Never has this been about race. It is simply trying to target a hard-to-reach youth demographic in a venue that is proved popular with this age group.
"The campaign initially launched #knifefree branded chicken and burger boxes earlier this year in March on a small scale across 15 shops in south London and Manchester to really positive feedback from the chicken shop customers, who praised it as 'meaningful' and 'a great way to engage with the local community'.
"The campaign also showcased young people from all backgrounds that have gone #knifefree across ACMS digital screens in the shops.
"The Home Office then decided to roll out the campaign of branded boxes on a wider scale for mass reach, due to the positive sentiment the boxes received from the initial trial.
"It has deeply saddened us that the politicising of this campaign has unfortunately detracted from the key focus of communicating the heart of this issue – that going #knifefree can be a reality for young people. The chicken boxes is simply a new way of engaging with young people, and potentially helping those who feel lost and could relate to the stories being told. If it has an impact on just one young person, all of this would've been worth it."
FCB Inferno is the lead agency for wider #knifefree campaign. A spokesperson told PRWeek: "FCB Inferno is the agency behind the #knifefree campaign but is not involved in the chicken box activity."
PRWeek asked the Home Office to clarify which agency delivered the campaign.
Meanwhile, content creation agency Word on the Curb has produced its own take on the chicken shop campaign.
On Saturday (17 August) the agency gave out chicken boxes outside the Westfield Stratford shopping centre in East London and asked the public to write down their ideas for combating youth violence.
It plans to deliver the messages to the Home Office on Tuesday.
This article first appeared on prweek.com/uk