I’m not referring to Manoj Night Shyamalan’s latest film. That’s Glass. I’m talking about glass. Yes, that glass that is all around us!
Or considering this news in today’s Deccan Herald. The news, not found in other Pune-based newspapers like The Times of India, Hindustan Times, Indian Express or Mirror, says that a man cut the insides of his throat because of a piece of glass found in a Burger King burger!
In this scenario, who would you blame? Options:
a. Burger King
b. Pune Municipal Corporation
c. Sreemant Dagadusheth Halwai Ganapati
If you wouldn’t even think of choosing option d, let me show you 2 efforts online that are bent on doing precisely that!
Recently, I saw a promoted tweet that I thought was extremely interesting. I have no idea why I was targeted (that too, on my music-related handle, @milliblog, not even on my primary handle, @beastoftraal!), but my PR/marketing ears perked up immediately when I saw the tweet.
If you went, ‘Whaaaat?’, I completely understand. The timing is around the release of Avengers Endgame and the visual has a Hulk-like skin tone and the reference to ‘superheroes’. But are they referring to Kryptonite? Nope. They are referring to, simply… glass!!
Glass! Of all the things? Seriously?
The website mentioned in all the handles (glasshurts dot com), surprisingly, goes nowhere!
It’s a dead-end! I was really looking forward to knowing who is behind this effort, but there are no leads here. I’m not alone with this curiosity, though.
Think about it. Have you ever thought about glass as villain? Yeah, I/we know sharp glass can hurt, but that’s almost like saying roads cause accidents.
Let me put my PR hat and ask this question: who stands to gain by vilifying the glass? I really cannot think of anybody! Honestly. I mean what has glass done to anyone?
So I looked harder. What kind of messages is the handle sharing? Here’s a list.
- Glass is unsafe (broadly unsafe)
- Glass hurts/kills (specific thread of being unsafe)
- Glass pollutes (another specific thread of being unsafe)
While the first 2 are self-explanatory, the 3rd one is mighty intriguing. The 2 vectors they use to substantiate pollution are,
a. Glass causes sound pollution
b. Glass industries cause the degradation of Taj Mahal (by being nearby)!
The sound pollution angle is baffling, given there are so many other industries that perhaps cause much higher noise pollution, but the Taj Mahal angle has been credibly addressed by the handle using research from National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI).
Ok. So the handle is not faffing and is perfectly serious. That means there is a team behind this effort and this is not some person’s whimsical idea.
In fact, the way the handle responds to people, it uses ‘We’ and not ‘I’. That obviously means this is a team effort.
And the handle is spending money promoting tweets!
So, the question again – who stands to gain from vilifying the glass? And to what effect?
There are people asking the obvious – if not glass, what else are they recommending? Plastic? Paper? Metal? What?
The handle(s) don’t take a categorical stand on this. They literally offer a range, as answer. That’s very non-committal on alternatives but very focused on the specific cause! Again, baffling.
I then looked at the WHOIS data for glasshurts, even though the page is blank. That’s a dead end too since the ownership details are masked.
Hashtags! The most commonly used hashtag by the #glass_hurts handle is, well #glasshurts. So who else, besides the handle, uses this hashtag? A few random people that I cannot connect to any organization (there is one guy connected to Vedanta, but that’s about it – cannot think of any specific gains for the mining behemoth for causing public unrest about glass!).
And then I found something of a decent clue – another handle called Perils of Glass!
The name of the handle is ‘Glass Is Not Innocent’! Wow, they are taking this very personally, huh?
Both Glass Hurts and Perils of Glass are located out of India (the former says it so, in location on Twitter, while the latter has a dot-in URL that is not glasshurts.com). The URL mentioned in Perils of Glass is glassisnotinnocent.in. The website has gyan on how dangerous glass is but no credible information of why someone is organizing this campaign, what are the alternatives they are suggesting or who is behind this effort.
The handle also mentions another URL, http://glassisnottransparent.in!
WHOIS search? Bingo! Both URLs are registered by SPAG Consultants Private Limited. That’s a PR agency!
But are the 2 efforts (Glass Hurts and Perils of Glass) connected? Not explicitly, but there are many overlapping narratives.
Both share content, like videos and images that are directly anti-glass. But the images and videos used do not overlap. The Taj Mahal pollution angle is shared by both handles – Glass Hurts shared an original video explaining its perspective, while Perils of Glass shared news articles on the topic to bolster its point.
And the Perils of Glass handle has a lot more content on potential alternatives, with a specific nudge towards plastic, that supreme enemy of the industry right now, after years of sustained campaigning against it. That’s a contrast from Glass Hurts that remains staunchly non-committal on specific alternatives.
Quite a few employees of SPAG and its group companies (like D Yellow Elephant, and Strategic Partners Group, which is the parent group of SPAG) have retweeted tweets shared by Perils of Glass. But, in case of Glass Hurts, there is no visible trail of any PR agency person Liking or Retweeting the content.
Next, ‘follows’. Glass Hurts follows 2 people that I cannot conclude as campaign-related. But Perils of Glass follows (only) 3 handles – PlasticsRecyclers EU, Sustainable Brands and The New Plastics Economy – an initiative by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation! All three work in the area of rethinking the supply chain around plastic!!
Has SPAG, the PR agency, been retained by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, to propagate information around The New Plastics Economy? I have no idea.
But it sure looks like at least Perils of Glass has an inherent interest in promoting a sustainable supply chain around plastic.
But, to achieve that aim, is vilifying glass the best strategy? Is the glass industry killing plastic to that degree? I always thought it was the other way around – look at soft drinks like Coke and Pepsi; they were available in glass bottles for a long time, but now, they are invariably more frequently available in plastic bottles!
Bottomline: I don’t know who is behind Glass Hurts, but my estimated guess about Perils of Glass is that SPAG is working for a client that has interest in plastic industry (albeit the supply chain around plastic).
The larger problem around both the efforts is this – they sound incredibly dodgy.
The strategy is almost akin to a shadow war, where both efforts are attacking a broad industry, with no specific target, in the name of educating consumers against glass. It sounds hollow because there is no transparency around who is lobbying to this effect, with the public.
This is poor and ill-advised public relations strategy where one group is paying an agency (or multiple agencies) to indulge in a public awareness campaign (albeit with legitimate information), aimed at end users, against the use of glass, without revealing the who or why of the campaign.
It’s not as if we (you or I) are mad lovers of glass, as a material. We are all indifferent to glass and somewhat take it for granted. We couldn’t care less about it. If we find a better alternative we wouldn’t think twice before moving out of glass usage. However, glass is literally all-pervasive, in our homes, or at restaurants, among other places. So, communicating to us about the perils of glass is a perfectly valid idea.
But there is an active, multi-party lobby against plastic, globally. Plastic is a perennial villain, exacerbated by phenomenal campaigns around plastic bags, drinking straws, plastic cups etc. And if there are organizations thinking about a better way to produce, use, dispose and recycle plastics, that is definitely a good initiative.
What is not good is such an effort not revealing itself as the power behind vilifying glass. That disclosure is crucial when trying to create awareness against something that is affecting them and they stand to gain from that awareness. This is PR 101! I’m very surprised the client was not recommended this simple hygiene check before indulging in this surreptitious effort!
The ‘About Us’ section of Perils of Glass website is all about ‘We’ this and ‘We’ that without even considering that this so-called dialogue they are initiating is between the public and an unnamed entity! Would you have a dialogue with someone you don’t know? For asking directions on the road – yes, but about the purpose and perils of glass? No way. For a dialogue to happen, the initiating party needs to establish trust first!
Related to that point is the fact that there are no individual voices bolstering these points. Credible, individual voices. No media quotes, data points… nothing! Just public awareness using really vague anti-glass sentiment that people generally find very odd and funny. The most common reaction is, ‘What are you folks even talking about?’.
If the entity behind these efforts is really into sustainable supply chain around plastics, then revealing that as the cause and voice openly is perhaps the best way to go. I can understand their hesitation in doing so, given the enormous anger against plastic built up by hugely creative public awareness campaigns and news articles on the material. But hiding the identity of the owner of the campaign is even more dodgy. Instead, shifting the focus on the supply chain is a better way to avoid directly referring to the material.