One of the curiosities of visiting the United Kingdom is to gape and guffaw at newspaper displays while walking around town. After all, the content in tabloid displays, thanks to such fine publications as The Sun, Daily Mirror and Star, make American tabloids look like Reader’s Digest. But not everyone is amused, including the advocacy groups Child Eyes and No More Page 3, and they in turn launched successful social media protests. Some of Britain’s largest supermarkets then took notice.
Both organizations claimed victory as supermarket chains Tesco, Marks & Spencer and Waitrose have announced they will alter their newspaper displays so that they are no longer in the line of sight of children. The U.K. government recently passed new guidelines over how retailers should display newspapers after commissioning a report that attacked the country’s overly sexualized “wallpaper” surrounding children, but the largest chains in the country continued to display magazines and newspapers in full view of all customers.
Legislation mandating how newspapers and magazines with graphic content should be displayed has been on the books in the U.K. for over 30 years, but it was a rule often ignored by stores. Co-founders Kathy McGuinness and Claire Riseborough, fed up with what they saw as offensive content in their local stores, launched Child Eyes in the fall of 2012 and began a campaign with a corps of volunteers. Using social media, the organization pressured retailers to remove explicit content from children’s sight. The result was a meeting with Tesco directors last week, after which the giant chain agreed to change how newspapers are displayed. By the end of the month, instead of positioned vertically, newspapers will be stacked in redesigned displays revealing only the mastheads of these publications.
Meanwhile, No More Page 3 also took on an aggressive push against how publications are displayed, hosting events as well as posting videos by citizens concerned and outraged over content displayed at retailers. Repeating its call that “boobs and bums aren’t news,” No More Page 3 was quick to announce that Waitrose and M&S are following Tesco’s lead — largely in part to the group’s #pornpapers campaign.
Whether this will make a difference in Britain’s tabloid culture and how these publications are pitched across the country remains to be seen. Other large chains, such as Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrison’s, are yet to fall in line. Plus thousands of stores, many of which are independently owned, do not confront the public relations pressure large chains face. Cross the Channel into the continent, and chances are one will see displays that make what is shown in the U.K. tame.
Nevertheless, the success No More Page 3 and Child Eyes have gained offer a template on how organizations with few resources can take on large corporations. The power of social media, whether through Twitter, Facebook or YouTube, applied relentlessly, is hard for large firms to ignore. Offering short and concise directions on how to get one’s voice heard, and offering creative forums in which citizens can express their opinions on an issue, also can do much to further an agenda if done intelligently — as these two groups certainly have the past two years.
Image credit: No More Page 3
Leon Kaye is based in California and most recently worked for a renewable energy investment company in the Middle East. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter. Other thoughts of his are on his site, greengopost.com.