THE first rule in the imaginary manual of everything is that if somebody who wants attention does or say something deliberately provocative to get airplay and exposure, don’t help them spread it. As journalists, we all fall into that trap every now and then. Look at professional provocative view generator Katie Hopkins, off-off The Apprentice, last week. Her face was all over Facebook and Twitter simply because she went on This Morning and said she didn’t want her kids to play with anybody called Tyler or Chardonay because their names meant they were destined to be unsavoury thickos. Easy money for her. Ten minutes of parping on about something that nobody really cares about and in return ITV get loads of enraged clicks and she gets a higher chance of more bookings to be paid to be controversial again. A hundred outraged comment pieces in the broadsheets only add to her notoriety. It would probably have been better if we had all just ignored her.
Maybe we shouldn’t mention them as the same might be said of the new Confused.Com adverts, but let’s live dangerously and play the fall guys (there’s a bit about Hampstead in a mo). For its latest marketing assault, the insurance company has switched from a cartoon house diva chirruping the syllables of Confused dot com to the sound of YMCA, to a robot called BRIAN. Already, Mumsnet users are currently debating, right now, as to whether he disturbs a couple in a car while “she is noshing him off” in one of his new adverts. Yes, they use those kind of terms on Mumsnet, it’s not all messageboards about primary school places. While that puzzler is deliberated – is it a nosh-off, or isn’t it a nosh-off, see above – the Confused.com’s name is meant to stick in our heads to be recalled the next time we need a policy, fighting the market rivals off no matter how many funny regional accents Paul Whitehouse can think of.
BRIAN is also on the radio with an advert specifically name-checking Hampstead Heath by alluding to its reputation as being a place for gay cruising. We all know that irritates the hell out of a few people living nearby who hate it when Hampstead Heath is sketched in this way. On this occasion it has also led to claims of homophobia.
On the company’s Facebook site – 32,700 people have taken the trouble to like Confused.com on Facebook – a listener complains: “I’d like to state that the homophobic inneudo might have been witty on paper, in the office among the lads, but it was also shameful, you’ve pretty much shown your company as a hotbed of homophobia”.
The company reply by insisting that BRIAN is by no means homophobic, and is simply “a price comparison robot who wants to help customers save money on their car insurance”.
It adds: “This is his singular mission and he doesn’t have the same thoughts and perceptions as humans do. BRIAN is simply stating facts in this advert and in no way is it meant to be offensive”. A leading LGBT group were played the advert before it went live to ensure that it would be “taken in the manner intended”.
So there. Quoted in The Drum, the company’s marketing director says: “We have plenty more humourous situations to come.” Fun times ahead.