Writing, life, politics

A Response From Phones4U

I emailed a complaint to Phones4U, giving the URL of my previous blog entry. Well they’ve pretty quickly replied in a comment there:

We like scout masters and in fact have a lot of respect for them and others who support the youth audience. The campaign is a humorous commentary about people’s obsession with popularity. It is meant to be a bit of fun and clearly not meant to be taken at literal face value, and we’re sorry if it’s caused you any offence.

Our focus has always been to target the youth market and the Great Deals For Popular People campaign is about Phones 4u offering great value deals. The aim of the campaign is to engage with our customers and reinforce what we’re about as a brand through fun, tongue in cheek advertising.

I suppose I should give them some credit for replying, but it really is a classic non-apology, in that it makes no concession of any wrong-doing and loads any and all blame onto me. The way I personally read their reply is as follows:

We like scout masters and in fact have a lot of respect for them and others who support the youth audience.

Right. You used an unattractive picture of a model dressed to look generally unattractive (woggle askew, glasses, bad hairstyle, awkward pose) and then suggested that because he was a scoutmaster it was unlikely that he would have many friends. That doesn’t really seem to scream “respect” to me. Being a scoutmaster, sadly, has a negative image. People are scared to become scoutmasters because they think people will think they are sad, weird people. Do you think your advert is likely to help dispel this negative image, or will it instead reinforce it?

The campaign is a humorous commentary about people’s obsession with popularity.

In what way? In no way is the bloke in the advert depicted as someone obsessed with popularity. Quite the opposite in fact; he’s chosen to pursue a path that is likely to lead to him being ridiculed. Surely the whole theme of the advert is to say, “You’re not a loser like this bloke, you have friends, so you should sign up for our new loads-of-friends package”?

It is meant to be a bit of fun and clearly not meant to be taken at literal face value, and we’re sorry if it’s caused you any offence.

Well you’re not really sorry then, are you? Because you’re saying that if I’ve been offended in any way, it’s because I’m a humourless person who’s taken something that should be fun and isn’t offensive at “literal face value”. It’s a classic non-apology, like the difference between saying “I’m sorry I hurt you by pushing you down the stairs” and “I’m sorry that you injured yourself due to the poor technique you used while falling down the stairs”.

Our focus has always been to target the youth market and the Great Deals For Popular People campaign is about Phones 4u offering great value deals. The aim of the campaign is to engage with our customers and reinforce what we’re about as a brand through fun, tongue in cheek advertising.

Yeah, that’s pretty much how humour used to work when I was young and at school. Pick a target who isn’t you or anyone in the group you’re trying to appeal to, and then make yourself look big and clever by taking the piss out of them. I’m aware I might well be looking very stiff and humourless here, but I’d like to think that in all the humour I’ve written over the years (and I’ve written a lot) I’ve taken care to never take the easy way out of just taking the piss out of easy targets.

Oh well. I’ve said my piece so I should probably shut up. Be interesting to see if the Scout Association have any comments.

30 Comments

  1. Martin Reed

    Nah. Don’t shut up. I think you’re spot on.

    Their other ads are no better. I daresay they’re on YouTube. They featured characters who are, presumably, supposed to be mentally disabled in some way. Whether phones4u accept it or not, they caused offence. I’m sure phones4u’s non-apology would be: “We like mentally disabled people.” But then why would they give a damn about alienating sections of the community? It’s isn’t as though they were ever going to make any money out of them.

    From their defence it sounds as though they see themselves as satirists, showing us the world as it really is. Your comparison with classroom bullies is more sound, I think.

    • Jonny Nexus

      Thanks for that. I was beginning to get paranoid that perhaps it was just me, so your post is very reassuring, and I’ve done what you said – instead of leaving it, I’ve contacted them again with a link to this post, to see if they have any further comments.

  2. Paul

    Man, what a bunch of assholes. They’re clearly saying “nerds like this don’t use our service; only popular people, like you, do,” and anything they say otherwise is just them trying to cover themselves. You tell them, Jonny.

  3. Carol

    Yep, a bunch of arseholes. I’ve just submitted a complaint about that advert to the ASA. This kind of negative imagery of the Scout Association does no good whatsoever. I’ve also pointed out to the ASA that Phones4U may be breaking the law by bringing the uniform into contempt (http://scouts.org.uk/documents/por/Chap10Sept08.pdf). Will also be bringing this to the Association’s attention so let’s hope that a proper apology from Phones4U is forthcoming. Keep up the good work!

  4. Brian

    Preach on. This is the lowest form of advertising and I long ago decided that those who said, “Ah, sure, we were only taking the piss to make us money,” were beyond morally bankrupt.

  5. Victoria

    I agree with you completely as someone actively involved with Scouting I was appalled by this advert. I am really glad to see that people from outside the movement seem to find it as bad as I do.
    I am also making a complaint to the ASA.

  6. Malcolm

    The Scout Association, mostly made up of hard working volunteers has worked tirelessly over the last few years to modernize their image and make it more attractive to today’s young people, with fantastic results. With Peter Duncan and now Bear Grylls as our new Chief Scout, the Scouts have a growing membership.

    This ad damages their good name with the young people they work with and the general public, is bordering on libelous and just plain inaccurate. We don’t even call leaders ‘Scout Masters’ any more so it shows how much research the Adam & Eve agency did.

    Just cancel your Phones4U contract and complain to the ASA – you know it’s the right thing to do.

  7. Bosif Juice

    It is not slander to hold a mirror up to society. Scout masters generally look quite similar to the man depicted in this advert. They are generally slightly odd individuals that don’t quite fit in, so spend most their time with impressional young boys in the woods. Like the catholic church, maybe scouts need to shake the pedophile image before they try shaking the “geeky oddball” image. History has shown that a very high number of scout leaders have been outed as pedophiles. this is a fact not stereotype.

    If the scouts think that this ad is the only thing that will stop young boys joining their ranks, they are in serious denial.

    • Jonny Nexus

      Well It’ll be no surprise that I don’t think that’s fair. Firstly, I think the Scouts have a far better record in this area than the Catholic Church. In particular, I don’t believe there have been any of the latter’s “cover-ups bordering on criminal conspiracy”.

      Secondly, the fear that I – and others – expressed was not that this advert would stop boys joining the scouts. In fact, if you’d read my first post you would have realised that they have the opposite problem: there are more boys and girls wanting to join the scouts than there are places available (there are 33,000 on waiting lists in the UK).

      The problem is that adults are put off from being coming scount-leaders by attitudes such as yours, attitudes that the ad is helping perpetuate.

  8. Ben Watts

    Well I’m a scout leader and I personally think its one of the best things anyone could do. I’ve never bought anything from phones 4 u and never will, although i do have the slight urge to walk into one of their stores in my uniform and ask for a phone that can hold more contacts because i’m an oputragously popular person and see what they do. Will they Say NO like their ad campaign shows? I highly doubt it

    • Jonny Nexus

      Agreed. I’m almost thinking that what would be even cooler would be if they had a poster of that ad up in the shop. It would make an awesome “hidden camera TV” type sketch to film you walking in, in your uniform, and then pausing in front of the poster to examine it – all the while filming the worried/awkward/shamed/embarrassed reactions of the staff as they waited to see how you might react.

      It would be interesting to know what might happen if the Scout Association asked all their members and members’ families to boycott Phones4U.

      And kudos for you for being a scout leader. I think it’s a very cool thing for you to be doing. I’m afraid that when it comes to doing good community things, I’m pretty much in the “I am crap, I do nothing camp” but I guess at least I can feel good about one thing – unlike the people at Phones4U I’m not throwing crap at those people who are doing things.

  9. Anon

    Doesn’t anyone think – hey it’s just an advert!

    I’m all for the scouts, my mum was a brown owl and set up the rainbows/brownies/guides movement in my home town – my brother was a scout.

    But hey guys! – It’s just an advert, it’s not a personal attack to anyone just like adverts like McCoys (Man Crisps) implies that anyone who discusses ballet isnt a man etc etc.

    No one cries about that one so why is everyone getting so defensive about this one.

    People in the scouts are most likely always gonna get bullied – regardless of what is on TV/paper etc – that is just the world we live in.

    Surely the whole premise of being a scout (a truly heroic and honourable person) is that you have the ability to rise against petty adverts and opinions of others and to go your own way and be the bigger man without causing an uproar.

    So what if some phone company wants to say that scouts might be unpopular – i’m sure they will have many more adverts featuring other areas of society.

    I for one thinks – so what, let them.

  10. Mr. Adman

    I don’t have any feelings towards scouts, or scout masters, I don’t really care about people having a laugh at other peoples expense, but if your going to do it, at least make it good.
    What is the point of this advert? In what way does it appeal to anybody? Satire is wonderful, but your supposed to use WIT to achieve it!
    OOOO wow mr. Ad exec, you used some SARCASM in your advert, that makes you reeeeeealy cleaver. (that was me attempting to use sarcasm and failing in an attempt to highlight their failings)
    Honestly this is just a monumentally poor piece of advertising.

  11. Jon

    Dear Mr ******,

    We like scout leaders and in fact have a lot of respect for them and others who support the youth audience.

    The campaign is a humorous commentary about people’s obsession with popularity and we apologise if it has caused you any offence. It is meant to be a bit of fun and not meant to be taken at literal face value.

    Our focus has always been to target the youth market and the Great Deals For Popular People campaign is about Phones 4u offering great value deals. The aim of the campaign is to engage with our customers and reinforce what we’re about as a brand through fun, tongue in cheek advertising.

    Again, we apologise for any offence the ad may have caused.

    Kind regards,

    **** *****
    Phones 4u Press Office

    I got the same reply!

    • Jonny Nexus

      And I thought I was special.

      🙂

  12. Paul sacks

    The wonders of the internet eh? not only can I catch up on television shows that I have missed but I can also make sure I never miss an opportunity to write a letter of compliant.

    Last week someone on the bus was saying that TESCO on the high street was selling non-dolphin friendly Tuna, so I phoned the store manager and gave him a piece of my mind. I’ve heard the next advert from Phones 4u contains a thieving Polish builder. Mary Whitehouse would be turning in her grave if she wasn’t dead.

    Thank god no one reads this because there might be a few clergy after you Jonny.

  13. Dom

    Congrats – http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/8102536.stm

    • Jonny Nexus

      Cool!

    • Wole Regoge Nej

      Well I suppose that’s just redefined the scouts as just what the advert depicted them as.

      Whingy and annoying…

      Well Done guys *Pats on the Back*

      Really boosted your do gooder image now – this will surely stop the bullying.

      Ever wondered why scouts get bullied when the whinge so much about petty and stupid little issues.

      I certainly don’t…

  14. James Wallis

    I don’t suppose you’ve got the IP addresses for ‘Bosif Juice’, ‘Anon’ and ‘Wole Regoge Nej’, Jonny? Might I hazard a guess that they’re remarkably similar?

    • Jonny Nexus

      No, they are different. i.e. Bosif Juice and Wole Regoge Nej have different IPs and only some of the Anons are Wole Regoge Nej.

      Not that this necessarily means anything.

  15. Wole Regoge Nej

    I have previously used Anon however these are the only two names i would use

  16. Liam

    this big thing about this is how stupid the advertising was from a busines point, theres surtern things in sursitery you cant poke fun at and scouts it one of them the idiot that came up with this is just plan bad at his job

  17. hayley orwin

    its an advert get over it it isnt supposeed to mean anythin people are just way to senstive about anythin now adays

  18. hayley orwin

    army cadets are better anyday

  19. col

    GOOD ON YOU MATE,ALL I CAN SAY IS THEY ARE JUST A BUNCH OF C–TS..OOPS SORRY IF I OFFEND BUT I LIKE MANY KINDS OF C–TS!!

  20. Sensible anon

    At least the scouts don’t damn well act as a recruiting tool for the army.

    And what the hell is geeky about outdoors skills?

    Always wished I had the ability to do this kind of stuff, but I’m just too geeky and not physically up to it. No, I’m not fat.

    And I know this is a long time after the fact, but this just got me when I found this blog (through a trail from criticalmiss.co.uk, still good for a laugh)

    • Jonny Nexus

      Cool to see someone finding their way here from Critical Miss.

      🙂

  21. Dollydaydream

    Hi everyone,
    Ive been reading through everyones comments because im studying marketing in Edinburgh and am also apalled by this campaign. I am writing my first 4th year assignment on exactly how apalling i think it is… should be fun! I think the major problem with this campaign is that instead of focusing on phones, their uses, Phones 4 u low costs and any form of sup[erior customer service like its competitots carephone warehouse its focusing on appearance, apparently Phones 4 U know based on how you look whether your cool or not. They say they are targetting at a 16-24 age group, which is an impressionable age to say the least, which is nothing else i beleive is ethically un sound. forget the scout campaign look at their photo scanning game on the website to say whether your popular or a looser…..

  22. jonny b

    Scoutmasters like to bum small children anyway! they only take the job so they can see young boys cocks!

    The bummer in the ad is made to look like a boyloving nerd because…. well because hes supposed to be a scout leader dib dib!

    Nice one phones4u i laughed my cock off at that bespectacled cock sniffer lol… huraaahhhghh

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