Life&Style editor Emma Davis tackles the subject of Joe Lycett’s latest publicity stunt and muses on the disappointing media response on the bigger issue of single-use plastic over attention-grabbing antics
Comedian Joe Lycett is well known for his attention-grabbing publicity stunts. Last March, he legally changed his name to Hugo Boss, shaming the brand for its pedantic trademarking that targeted small business and charities by preventing them from using the word ‘boss’ in their branding. After making several public appearances as Hugo Boss, Lycett changed his name back a month later. He has also forced Uber Eats to review their food safety after setting up his own ‘restaurant’ –crucially, it was actually a skip – that highlighted just how easily Uber Eats accepted and served food from new eateries without any hygiene measures. Indeed, his controversial methods have continued to yield results, demonstrating the effectiveness of highly public stunts and the magnitude of the attention they attract.
Lycett’s television stunt on the 1st July was no different, gaining mass media coverage. To put this in to context; Lycett was on Channel 4, a guest on the show Steph’s Packed Lunch, where he explained that he had stopped using single-use plastic in order to ‘help the environment.’ Later in the show, during a segment on Love Island homeware style, host Steph McGovern showed a photo of him, from his own Instagram page, with a single-use plastic bottle clearly in view in the background. Following this shock, Lycett angrily exclaimed ‘I didn’t realise I was on Newsnight,’ before dramatically storming off the set.
However, the following day, Lycett confessed that the walk-out was part of a planned publicity stunt, to try and bring awareness to the issue of white PET plastic usage. In a message directed to his (one million) Instagram followers, Lycett shared a picture of himself in his garden with the plastic bottle (notably, from the brand Yop) beside him and revealed his ‘tantrum’ on set was indeed part of a pre-planned set-up. He also acknowledged that his intention was to gather media attention; returning to the show the following day, he cited Piers Morgan and Patsy Palmer as examples of chat-show storm-offs that gathered a mass press interest, demonstrating his intention – ‘I decided that I wanted as many people to know about this story as possible.’
As designed and predicted, the staged storm-off did indeed gather mass media attention and speculation. This only proved the effectiveness of Lycett’s method. It was with this attention that Lycett was able to broadcast his important message, reaching a far wider demographic than merely his own social media feeds. By involving the media with a ‘scandal’ before reclaiming the narrative for his own device, Lycett effectively harnessed the power of gossip and tabloid culture for a productive message on plastic. In a way, the existence of this article therefore becomes a self-reflexive acknowledgment of Lycett’s reach; without his television storm-out, Redbrick would not be publishing a story about him posting on Instagram about plastic waste.
Since a number of media outlets had already reported on the storm-out prior to Lycett revealing the truth about it, they dutifully had to comment on what followed, namely, the truth of the event and the message behind it. In this way, Lycett utilised the media coverage on both a widespread level (raising awareness of plastic usage) and much more specifically, to direct his message towards the brand Yop in particular: ‘Yop, it’s time to stop using white PET plastic.’ He also clearly and explicitly notes why, stating that whilst clear PET bottles will be widely recycled, ‘coloured and in particular white PET plastic bottles are much harder to recycle.’ Whilst the attention was on him, Lycett produced a clear and comprehensive message about the dangers of white PET plastic, reaching not only his own followers, but the media that continued to look at him with interest following his publicity stunt.
Perhaps it is rather sad that the message itself would not be enough to gain this extent of media attention, that a man walking off a television set is more significant to media outlets than the future of the planet. But this is a reflection of the consumer demand: plastic is not scandalous, a live storm-off is. However, in acknowledging this societal failing and using it to his own advantage, Lycett elicits a greater response. Whilst ideally, the world would simply hear and respond to his message authentically, this is not reality, and therefore his stunt was a necessary and ingenious way of bringing more attention to causes that truly matter.
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