I’m not quite sure what to make of the news that one hundred hearses will be “making an attempt on a Guinness World Record” as the British Institute of Funeral Directors (BIFD) promotes its members’ services to the public at the annual conference in Croydon at the end of October.
The press release states that:
The BIFD wants to open up the profession and its suppliers to their market, to make the whole process less intimidating. The hearse cavalcade is an event that puts us in the public eye, it lets the public and the funeral directors see the range of vehicles available from the carriage masters. A visit to the conference’s exhibition allows the public to see the wide range of options available to them, without being under the immediate stress of a bereavement.
It is this blatant seeking of publicity and commercialism that makes me uncomfortable, although I appreciate that people are increasingly taking control of their send off. Indeed, after my dad died in April, we had the cremation, then a service and burial in France and a celebration of his life with friends and family in Great Yarmouth, each of which helped us enormously.
Last Friday, the BBC Radio 2 Jeremy Vine show had a guest who has written a book We Need To Talk About The Funeral – 101 Ways To Commemorate And Celebrate A Life and established the Association of Independent Funeral Advisors. A phone in discussion revealed how much people value being able to deal with their loss through a commemorative or celebratory event.
Although everyone who attended my father’s celebration said it was very well organised, I am not sure such events should go the way of weddings, complete with professional planners.
Do we want the equivalent of the choccywoccydoodah cake or cupcake towers as a fashion for funeral teas? Or a Top 10 of funeral song choices? How do you feel about Co-op Funeralcare sponsoring the World’s Bowls Tour? Is it okay for death and grief to be seen as a market opportunity?
There already seems to be a trend for wicker or willow caskets as an aesthetic or environmental statement. And, in the US, one entrepreneur has made a fortune with software that produces “emotional memorial videos“. Such marketing ideas are a staple feature in the Funeral Business Advisor magazine.
Laderman, author of Rest in Peace claims:
…from its earliest years, the funeral industry- has devoted a great deal of time and energy to public relations, and much of the industry literature is replete with advice about how to reach out to the bereaved, understand the dynamics of grief, and provide mourners with a satisfactory, therapeutic funeral. By the second decade of the century, many industry publications began to regularly include articles on managing the public image of undertaking, focusing on everything from the layout of a casket showroom to personality tips for interviewing clients. Whether articles were specifically related to improving public relations or not, the publications arriving at funeral homes around the country provided a wealth of material for funeral directors to draw from in their drive to shape public opinion about why American funerals are valuable and legitimate.
The UK “funeral market” is said to be worth around £1billion annually, with over 600,000 funerals taking place each year.
The Economic Psychology of Everyday Life cites the risk of exploitation to many “consumers” of death services and the industry is largely unregulated. Consequently, costs run into many thousands of pounds, and people are unlikely to shop around at a time of great distress. So perhaps opening up the “market” is a positive step.