The Co-op tackles the thorny subject of death Article icon

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What song would you like played at your funeral? It is not a question that people would expect the Co-op to ask, but two years ago it was the opening gambit of a two-pronged campaign launched by Britain’s largest funeral director as it sought to tackle the taboo surrounding death.
    As a business operating more than 1,000 funeral homes across the country, Co-op Funeralcare has long been fascinated by people’s choice of funeral music and has compiled bi-annual charts since 2002.
But when its own consumer research revealed that more than 50 per cent of Britain’s adults had not shared their funeral wishes, causing distress for those left behind, Co-op Funeralcare created a campaign to prompt conversations about this difficult subject.
    In doing so, Co-op Funeralcare sought to position itself as a thought leader on industry trends and also to raise awareness of its services - tackling the view that large funeral providers were impersonal. It was a misconception that Co-op’s funeral directors, who deal with bereaved relatives every day, were also keen to challenge.
    Co-op Funeralcare first analysed the music choices from more than 30,000 funerals it had managed over the previous year. This analysis was combined with consumer research to establish future funeral music charts.
Frank Sinatra’s My Way proved to be the chart topper in 2016, knocking Eric Idle’s Always Look on the Bright Side of Life off the number one slot, a position it occupied in 2014.
The Lord’s My Shepherd, All Things Bright and Beautiful and Abide With Me also featured in the top ten in both years, but the research revealed that hymns are declining in popularity at funerals while pop is the most requested music genre.
    A national news release revealed the top ten for funeral music, which coincided with a series of broadcast interviews, including one with broadcaster and former Smash Hits editor Kate Thornton, who chose Joan Armatrading’s Love and Affection as her choice. Co-op Funeralcare also created a dedicated funeral music web page, covering the charts for all music genres, and a Spotify playlist of the top ten. More than 30,000 people have since clicked through.
    The second phase of the campaign launched eight months later. Co-op Funeralcare’s PR team contacted its more than 1,000 funeral homes for information on unique tributes they had organised over the previous two years. After contacting those involved and sourcing photography, the team revealed five unique tributes, including a Superhero and Halloween themed funerals with the funeral directors donning She Ra and Darth Vader costumes respectively, and one where all the guests wore an item featuring leopard print to match the coffin.
    Catherine Turner, head of consumer services PR, says that the trend for personalised funerals has been growing over recent years as people increasingly view the service as a celebration of life. She adds: ‘Case studies were an ideal way to bring this to life, telling the story through a real-life example. As part of the campaign, we placed a case study with the media, as well as stats showing the trends.’
    In total, the two-pronged approach generated 450 items of media coverage, including 35 articles in national news titles. The initial case study about a bespoke funeral prompted media requests for further ones, leading to four consecutive days of coverage on unique tributes.
    Turner adds: ‘I think campaigns like this can have a lasting impact, but only when there is support and buy-in from the business to actually listen and change.’
    Conversations across social media channels demonstrated Co-op Funeralcare’s willingness to discuss funerals, initially leading to a 69 per cent uplift in funeral plan sales. The company has also responded to the changing marketplace, developing a new range of products, from monthly funeral plans that provide the service in the event that the customer dies before the instalments have been fully paid - most plans simply refund payments to date leaving bereaved relatives with a financial shortfall - and Cremation without Ceremony, where the service takes place without any mourners. Co-op Funeralcare also launched its first Rainbow hearse, adding to a pool of seven specialist vehicles, including a Buddhist-themed hearse, after its own data revealed 23 per cent of people would like to make their final journey in a personalised hearse.
    Its own people are also responding. Across its network of 1,000 funeral homes, local bereavement groups are being launched by staff to provide an opportunity for people to gather and share memories of their deceased relatives and friends.
    But campaigns such as these need to be ongoing, says Turner. ‘It’s also important to keep talking about the importance of an issue like this, as views and understanding cannot be changed overnight.’  This need to ‘keep talking’ has prompted the Co-op to build on last year’s campaign and launch the biggest ever survey into death, dying and bereavement. The Co-op has partnered with several national charities, such as Sue Ryder, Dying Matters, Cruise, the British Red Cross and Child Bereavement UK and Remember a Charity. The survey, which has had more than 25,000 responses to date, is ongoing.

    On completion, a detailed report of the findings will be released and Co-op Funeralcare will host a round table discussion with key influencers and charities to address some of the issues raised. ‘As a business, we don’t simply want this to be a campaign that just achieves media cut through, but instead one that can genuinely change attitudes and raise the importance of this subject,’ says Turner. ‘We are committed to fully considering the findings and using these to inform solutions to the issue.’