Autumn has very definitely arrived, blustering and swearing, and winter…
It’s all kicking off on the Ravelry boards … words flying, comments censored, needles aimed … the cause? A post submitted by someone working with Vodafone in Ireland on a ‘Cheer Up Ireland’ campaign which involves a bit of urban knitting (although there’s no mention of the project on their website.)
The idea is not a new one but started out with the best of intentions by Eilish Tuite, a third year sculpture student in Limerick school of Art and Design. She is working on a project called Urban Knit, the aim of which is to cover a disused building in Limerick City. The cover will eventually be chopped up into smaller blankets and donated to St.Vincent’s Charity (hopefully washed and repaired after much exposure to the elements?), although as DeadlyKnitshade points out in her post, the charity don’t seem to be asking for knitted blankets, more “help financially and/or by giving of your time”.
Eilish has been calling for contributions of wool since the beginning of February, and I’m not sure whether Vodafone approached her after the project had been initiated or if it was the other way round.
Then a post popped up on Ravelry yesterday encouraging people to submit knitted squares. The contributor who started off the thread (under the username of Slkav) had joined Ravelry the same day – no profile, no knitting projects, no other contributions save this post. Their email address suggests they work for a company called Simply Zesty – an online pr and social media agency who frankly should know better.
After a few initial encouraging messages, the mood has changed as knitters have started to voice their resentment at the attempt to lure them into a corporate campaign.
Boff, where do we start with this? Advertising campaigns surrounding both the arts and charities are nothing new, nor is getting the unwitting public involved in contributing content, but I think the Vodafone case is a prime example of lazy PR bods delving into what they see as the subculture of the moment and underestimating the community. Subtlety and integrity are sadly lacking in this fumbled attempt to infiltrate the tight-knit (pardon the pun) group and this is, of course, a ridiculous crime in an era of online social networking, particularly from a company claiming to be experts in that field.
The group the thread is posted in is a fairly anonymous one called ‘Needlework on the Net‘ which seems to have been picked for its popularity and the frequency of its member contributions. Possibly where Slkav went wrong was in underestimating the passion the Ravelry members feel for their craft – that and the ability to sniff out a fake a mile off.
Knitters do not like being patronised – we’ve got years of dodgy imagery to live down and most of us are proud of, and committed to, our craft, so for a corporate representative to dip in with no background or enthusiasm in the field stinks of fraud.
We love what we do and we especially love it if there’s an excellent reason for doing it – knitting for causes has been consistently popular since ladies started knitting soldiers’ comforts during the Crimean War (the cardigan is named after the 7th Earl of Cardigan, the first British officer to cross the Russian lines in the famous Charge of the Light Brigade) and, of course, continued to do so during the First and Second World Wars. There are plenty of charities out there calling for knitted contributions (this Get Knitting article is a good place to start if you’re interested), we can personally choose which charity we’d like to help out, so it feels cheap when corporates come over all bandwagonesque and hitch a ride.
Vodafone, and possibly Elish herself, are probably a little bewildered by this tremendous backfire – after all, if a big brand name approached me with an offer to sponsor a project with maximum publicity, I’d definitely flirt with it for a while, maybe even go to second base. Financial and business patronisation of the arts is another age-old concept, they have always had a necessary and yet uneasy relationship. It’s a vulnerable alliance, easily soured and needing to be handled with care – I watched many bands who jumped at the chance to sign to a huge label, grateful for the money and opportunity, only to become embittered when they saw their artistic control wither away.
Knitting and craft generally is hot news at the moment and there are plenty of media types currently wanting a piece of it (yes you Harry Hill!). It’s inevitable and not always a car-crash – Innocent Drinks have successfully run ‘The Big Knit‘ for a few years now, a campaign set up alongside Sainsbury’s, which encourages people to send in small knitted hats for the bottles. For every behatted smoothie sold, 35p is given to Age Concern and Help The Aged. They give full details of where the money goes and it’s clear they’re working alongside the charity. Sure it’s a marketing gimmick, but it’s better thought-through and more sympathetic to the cause than Vodafone’s limp effort, and they came up with it before knitting hit the big-time.
Hopefully this case will be a warning to other marketeers … use your heads, show commitment and less of the patronisation you monkies!