Fury over advert claiming Egypt revolution as Vodafone's
Vodafone advertisement produced by JWT that suggests the phone company helped inspire the Egyptian revolution.
Vodafone is facing a backlash in Egypt over an advert suggesting it helped inspire this year's revolution in the country.
The three-minute commercial featured excerpts from a Vodafone ad campaign entitled Our Power, which was launched three weeks before an anti-government uprising swept the country. 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.
In fact, many pro-change activists blame Vodafone and other mobile phone companies for following Egyptian government orders and implementing a communications blackout at the height of the revolution. They have condemned the advert as a "sickening" attempt to push up sales by "riding the revolutionary bandwagon", and an insult to the hundreds who died in the struggle to bring down Mubarak.
"Apparently this tagline inspired people to take the streets," said prominent blogger Mohamed El-Dahshan in one of many angry and satirical responses that have spread across the web. "I mean, never mind the years of activism, the protests, the decades of cumulated grievances, the terrible economic situation, the trampled political freedoms, the police brutality, the torture, etc. Nah – we just watched a Vodafone ad, and thought: 'Hey! We're powerful! Let's topple the president!'"
Vodafone has strongly disassociated itself from the commercial, which was produced by the international marketing firm JWT. "The company does not have any connection to this video and had no prior knowledge of its production or posting on the internet," said Hatem Dowidar, the chief executive of Vodafone Egypt.
The advert appeared on the public website of JWT, which was hired by Vodafone Egypt to mastermind its recent communications strategy. The agency said the video was for "internal use" only and "not intended for public display". It has since been removed from the website, as havecopies posted on YouTube.
Egyptians queued up to vent their disbelief online. One YouTube comment said: "Are you guys seriously planning on leeching something out of this after you cut the phones and internet, after protesters who were being shot at could not call others and warn them about being shot at by snipers because of you? SHAME!"
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. It said it had no choice and has since apologised.
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.
"All companies in Egypt are trying to use revolutionary and nationalist imagery right now to drive sales and in most cases it doesn't concern me," said Ramy Raoof, an activist with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights who had his own Vodafone Egypt service cut off for several months under orders from Mubarak's apparatus.
"But when the communications companies try it – the ones who handed out our personal information to state security, the ones who shut down our lines and who helped the government cut us off – it's too far. People are talking about compensation but we don't want money. We want to see people on trial."
"We have not used any images of the Egyptian revolution at any time in any of our external promotional material," a Vodafone spokesperson told the Guardian. "Any suggestions to the contrary are incorrect."