Ad agency Iris blasted for poking fun at people on benefits

Ad agency Iris, whose clients include AdidasDomino’s and which also created the London 2012 mascots ‘Wenlock and Mandeville’, has been lambasted online for an internal staff benefits book, which some are arguing pokes fun at disadvantaged sections of society who struggle to make ends meet.

The Iris staff benefit book, ‘Iris on Benefits’, is intended to imitate the C4 series, ‘Shameless’, and features its staff dressed up as “rough, alcoholic, lazy, law-avoiding council estate characters” from the comical Manchester-based hit series.

It probably sounded like an amusing idea, but once executed others are easily arguing that it depicts a group of privileged and well paid ad execs mocking the less fortunate.

I’m personally not overly offended as I’m sure that the agency was not intending to belittle the characters that its staff portray, but that is the way that it comes over. What absolutely is clear is that this is a horrible idea.

It might have been intended as a joke, but unlike the comedy series like ‘Shameless’, which looks for the humour in the lives of its characters and delivers it with some fine comedy writing, this doesn’t come across as funny. Instead the images it uses are in part Daily Mailesque inspired media cliches. Most notably the media images of young pregnant working class women smoking.

The offence is in how this reinforces such stereotyping. If you could not see that coming then really head to your local opticians.

But maybe the biggest crime here for an ad agency is a dreadful lack of ideas. It is lame. Is that the only way they could think of selling “benefits” that they were offering staff.  In an Olympic year, with an agency associated with the games, this kind of booklet should have been about positivity, potential and creativity. That all appears to be lacking.

The story first appeared on Campaign’s diary last week and the first sign that this was not going to do the agency any PR favours came with the first comment:

” it just looks like middle class meedja types laughing at poor people for the sake of a lazy pun”.

This was exactly the view taken by the Copbot blog, which posted a story with a headline that reads ‘Ad agency laughs at people on benefits’:

“I’m sure this was supposed to come across as light and humorous, but it doesn’t. It comes across as sneering, superior and ignorant. Did I mention that the pregnant lady has a cigarette in her hand in both photos? That’s right, people, if you lose your job and have to claim unemployment benefits, you’ll inevitably get up the duff and smoke through your pregnancy. What is this? Kilroy?”

The post has more than 40 comments most of which are scathing. The agency should pull this staff handbook pronto.

UPDATE – The row between Iris and the blogger who wrote story, @hollybrocks who works at Albion, has blown up on social media.

The agency has been deleting negative comments on its Facebook as the traffic to the blog has shot up. More than 140 comments have since been left — although some are defending the agency.

Iris co-founder Ian Millner has got involved and has been tweeting with Brocks and mentioning libel. Not sure what is libelous about this. It is certainly mightily embarrassing for Iris, that’s for sure.

Iris should know very well that deleting Facebook comments is an absolutely no-no, but they are at it all the same.

News of the blog written by Brocks was spready by other bloggers and prominent Twitter users such as
‘Chavs’ author Owen Jones.

  • Andy Pilkington

     Good grief. This is clearly an internal initiative. It’s like ‘those’ birthday cards you get at work where your colleagues put your face on top of pictures of two grotesque behemoths sexually grappling with each other. It’s not funny if you don’t know the face of the superimposed, but if you do it’s very funny. The humour is set to the gauge of the individual involved and those who know them. No one else.

    Put simply, as it seems that’s what you need, this is for people within an agency receiving a book that has funny pictures of people they know very well, looking silly. That’s funny. Your friends looking like a chav off the telly. Funny. Not groundbreakingly comedic. Just, funny.
    It therefore grabs the staff’s attention, and they then go on to read about the benefits that they have overlooked until that point in time, as it wasn’t in a book that grabbed their attention. It’s a diversion from the advertising these people do day in day out, it’s a bit of fun poked at colleagues, not genuinely disadvantaged innocents. Advertising as a whole does that already.

    If you think there are no people like those it chooses to stereotype, then it is clearly you who has no grasp on what life is really like in those kind of places, not iris. I grew up with many benefits cheats, lazy good for nothings, layabouts. They deserve to be ridiculed (if not slaughtered).

    It was perhaps unwise sending this out to Campaign for kudos as it would inevitably invite unwanted attention, but as an internal comms piece it is no one else’s business to comment on appropriateness/funniness other than those it is aimed at.

    So, is this funny to you gordonmacmillan ? No, because you don’t work with the people in those pictures. You don’t know them. The joke is not meant for you and is therefore not for you to judge its worth.

    Horrible idea? Ask the people it was aimed at, then write a more relevant and informed article.

    • Gordon Macmillan

      It wasn’t simply for internal use or they wouldn’t have sent it to Campaign, which is where this started in the first place. Funnily you never said where you worked Andy. Let me guess.

  • Ed Jones

    Clearly the ‘Andy Pilkington’ who replied to Gordon Macmillan that benefits cheats should be slaughtered would not be the same “Andy Pilkington Iris” that a quick Google search reveals to be “Head of Moving Image at Iris Worldwide”. Quality jurisprudence there, Andy.

  • Tony Free

    The content is no more offensive than anything else which takes a look at a certain class of people (Shameless, Ab Fab, The Royale Family, Only Fools and Horses).

    What this is, as always, is acting offended when it’s not required, kicking up a storm (if you could call a storm a few comments on a nobody’s blog) and raising awareness of herself and generating bad PR for a competitor.

    But this holier-than-thou author is not so justified if you read her Twitter stream. Let’s see (I have censored the profanities):

    Criticising those suffering with dyslexia saying “9/10 are bullshi**ng and just can’t spell”
    Judging and criticising the appearance of someone online saying “What the f*ck is this outfit? I have no words”
    Her respect for Neil Armstrong after his death? “It’s been a very bad week for people named Armstrong”
    And the real gem: “I think domestic cleaners should be provided free to everyone with a high-above-average IQ. Don’t waste time cleaning…” so anyone clever can make others work in servitude for free. Wonderful! 

    I see one of her followers is accusing Brand Republic of producing this material. But when does accuracy matter when breeding your own lynch mob and increasing your Twitter followers?

    • Paul

      Shameless, ad fab, only fool and horses and the royal family all use specific social situations to create comedy which is in sympathy with the people they are referencing.

      The iris campaign directly equates a social group to all being on benefits. It’s is mockery, pure and simple. It is laughing at and not laughing with. That is the difference.