Friday, 3 June 2011

Your friend the corporation

It's a truism that corporations resent the warm fuzzy emotions people get from doing things you can't commodify: love, in particular. That's why so many ads try to insert their products into scenes of joy: family life, relationships and so on. It's called simulation, whereas the relationships they can't actually appropriate are known as symbolic exchanges, in Baudrillard's terms.

Some companies actively take the piss though. Chief amongst them is Vodafone. Fresh from its triumph in tapping every Greek mobile phone call on behalf of the American Embassy, they've released a short film and campaign called Our Power, in which they attempt to claim a central role in the Egyptian revolution.

The video goes on to show images from protest rallies in Cairo's Tahrir Square before claiming: "We didn't send people to the streets, we didn't start the revolution … We only reminded Egyptians how powerful they are."
The short film features screengrabs of Facebook and Twitter messages posted by Egyptians approving of the Vodafone ad campaign, then an audio recording of Hosni Mubarak's resignation as president being announced on TV.

To make matters worse for Vodafone and JWT, both the original ad campaign and the latest video feature Adel Emam, a veteran Egyptian actor who initially denounced the pro-change protests in January and has been widely derided in Egypt for his close links with the Mubarak family.
Vodafone is one of several firms in Egypt that agreed to shut off its mobile and internet networks in the early stages of the revolt as the government attempted to isolate anti-Mubarak protesters. It also allowed the Mubarak regime to send out anti-revolutionary text messages en masse to subscribers.

The firm is facing a series of legal challenges over what some critics have called its "complicity in dictatorship". It is accused of passing on information about opposition activists to the Mubarak regime's security services – a claim seemingly confirmed by Vodafone's global head of content standards, Annie Mullins, in February 2009 but later denied by Vodafone Egypt. 

By a funny coincidence, a mobile phone provider called Vodafone followed the dictatorship's orders and closed down their network to prevent the revolution spreading. 

I wonder if they're related.

This is of course an extreme example of how capitalism works, and it's no surprise to see Vodafone back-pedalling like mad, but it's a mode of behaviour that's become normal. Every gig you attend 'sponsored' by a hair gel firm or a lager maker is a trap. They've bought a captive audience, and it's you.

No comments: