Iris on Benefits. Balancing the Controversy.

Before I start this I want to make it quite clear that I have found a rather nice comfy fence and I am most definitely sitting on it. It’s not often that I don’t have an opinion in a debate and usually I try and pick one because I think it makes these things quite fun but this one really has stumped me.

So, Iris (an advertising agency) have released an in house booklet called Iris on Benefits. It was to be sent out to its employees to tell them about the benefits they could be receiving while working there. All seems fairly kosher so far! Now the controversy has arisen because Iris decided to base this entire booklet around the concept of people receiving benefits, and they weren’t all that complementary. They went straight for the most degrading, stereotypical depictions of people on benefits that you can imagine, with their employees as the ‘models’:

Now the thing that I’m stuck on is the dilemma that I don’t believe we should compartmentalise everyone that receives benefits into this stereotype, especially with such negative connotations. But I can admit that stereotypes do exist, are basically unavoidable and actually I find some of the pages pretty entertaining:

Maybe I am just a horrible, judgemental, snob but I think there are plenty of people out there that find The Jeremy Kyle Show funny, laugh at Shameless and will take this is the way it was intended – as a joke! If Iris can judge their staff well enough to know this will go down in that way then I think, as an in house booklet, it’s fine!

The problem is, they loved it so much they sent it off to the advertising online newspaper Campaign and in doing so released it to an audience it wasn’t intended for, an audience that may not appreciate such an openly mocking view on benefit claimers and, quite rightly I think, they protested.

I think the main problem is that it’s a bunch of white, middle class people seemingly mocking working class society. Maybe they needed to be more self deprecating, to mock more people as to not show such an aversion to one stereotype of society? Maybe it’s too real, they missed the mark that makes programmes like The Royle Family or Little Britain ‘funny’ and not offensive and patronising, or perhaps their only mistake was to not keep it internal.

Missing the mark is a massive problem for an advertising agency, who would trust their brand with an agency that’s ruined its own?

But will fear of public outcry make agencies less creative? If you’re scared with every campaign you do that it will ruin your business will we be stuck with dull and bland adverts? Yes, I think so.

Many designers and advertisers get frustrated at clients for turning down the more creative routes and ‘staying safe’ with their advertising, and controversies such as this will surely only feed that mentality? I’m all for creativity so does that also mean I’m all for this?

On the other hand is it okay to offend people for the sake of humour? To belittle and mock an entire segment of society just for a laugh when you’re reading through your right to a pension?

I really could go either way! What do you think?

The full booklet can be found here.


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