Vodafone creates an ad claiming it inspired Egyptian revolution

This isn’t going to end well. Vodafone has this week released an ad that was created by ad agency JWT and seems to claim that it, and its tagline, inspired the uprising in Egypt that kick started the Arab Spring.

The ad which features many tweets and Facebook posts, which helped fuel and direct the uprising, is under fire with comments online attacking its bid to jump on the bandwagon.

The ad starts with how Vodafone launched its “power to you” Campaign in Egypt on January 1 2011 and then later on it details how this campaign built into more than 500,000 Facebook fans and then three weeks later the uprising began.

While Vodafone does say that it did not “start the revolution” it “only reminded Egyptians how powerful they are” it is being rightly seen as trying to gatecrash on the success of the power of the Egyptian people who made their own revolution.

Vodafone is also accused in some quarters of shutting off its phone network, cutting access to Twitter and Facebook, on the orders of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

This is pointed out in only the second comment on the YouTube video of the ad.

Egyptian blogger Mohamed El-Dahshan, said: “Apparently this tagline inspired people to take the streets. 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!’”

Comments on YouTube are also laying into Vodafone for trying to ride the revolutionary bandwagon. This is seriously going to (it already has started) backfire.

“WTF? Are you guys seriously planning on leeching something out of this after you cut out 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?after injured peaceful protesters couldn’t warn other protesters about traps that were being set up?” kumbazzz wrote.

“This is a disgrace to the memory of those that died in the revolution movement. Vodafone,? while youre busy paying all that tax you owe, why dont you go ahead and pull out of Egypt, yeh?“, said seattle0sound

What on earth was Vodafone thinking? Its reputation had already been slightly tarnished after being accused of blocking social media sites as the regime attempted to crack down on the unrest.

Surely someone did a search online and looked at how Vodafone had erred as the revolution unfolded? Some crises PR management is now going to be needed. What is the betting that this ad comes down pretty rapidly.

UPDATE 1 JWT has put out a statement, tweeted by the FT’s Tim Bradshaw, saying the ad was meant for internal use only: “was not intended for public display. We confirm that this video does not relate in any way to Vodafone Egypt”.

Really? Does this look like an internal spot? I don’t buy that and I further don’t by it as JWT are planning to talk about it at Cannes next week.

In the blurb for the Cannes event JWT says “social media has revolutionised political activism – how will it change consumer behaviour? What can marketers learn from activists? How can marketers create valid movements of their own? Those are the questions we want to explore with content creators who have been on the front lines in the biggest media stories of our time.”

UPDATE 2 Vodafone has put out this statement below denying responsibility for distributing the video.

“Vodafone Egypt denies responsibility for the video that circulated on social media channels including highlights of a Vodafone commercial. Hatem Dowidar, CEO of Vodafone Egypt, confirmed that the company does not have any connection to this video and had no prior knowledge of its production or posting on the Internet. He added that Vodafone Egypt is part of a global Company that has strict policies refraining associating the Brand name with any political or religious affairs of any country in which it operates.

“Dowidar further clarified that this video was produced by JWT company for its internal use and not for public display, and he added that Vodafone has never used this video and is not responsible for its messages or claims.”