Ad Watch: Wonga

At least they seem to have jettisoned the creepy puppets.

Wonga, that denizen of the modern age, has branched out. No longer just providing desperate people short term loans at stupidly high interest rates, with the help of a series of disturbingly lifelike granny puppets, they are now turning their hand to sorting out the UK's flagging business sector as well. Nice of them. Loans of £3,000 to £10,000 will be available for terms of between one and 52 weeks to viable business clients. Appropriately, a new advert campaign is needed to spread the word (just in case all the negative articles in the press didn't do the job quite well enough). Lo and behold, the buses of London are adorned with Wonga adverts.

To be fair, compared to the frankly terrifying old people grooving in an old people's home mysteriously well equipped with DJ-ing accessories and hope, these adverts are fairly inoffensive. They suffer terribly from what is known as the Innocent Smoothie disease, greeting the viewer with a friendly upbeat tone that masks the sad fact that they are about to mug you of 4,214 per cent APR, or of £2 for a bottle of mushed up fruit. But this is business, people. So the adverts are black, as opposed to Wonga's usual colour palate of friendly, non repossessing your house royal blue. Black is serious, a good colour for business, which is also serious. It doesn't get more nuanced than that.

The slogans are even better.

“Our branch address? Wongaforbusiness.co.uk”

“Loans 24/7 because business isn't 9-5”

“Business loans: think outside the bank”

Clever, aren't they? Notice how they take a well known business slogan and gently subvert it. It's because they're innovative. As the chief executive said in a recent interview with the Guardian, the company wants to "innovate around the edges”, acting as “the Amazon of financial services.” And why wouldn't you want to be known as that? It's not as if Amazon ever did anything a bit dodgy.

The latest Wonga news is that they have been warned by the Office of Fair Trading about their “aggressive” debt collection, after sending threatening letters and accusing customers of being fraudsters. Not so fluffy now. They are also getting involved in promoting financial literacy in schools, an area that is admittedly much wanting, but one that isn't an obvious move for a company reviled for its irresponsible lending. Indeed, it seems like not a day goes by when the company isn't in the news. Maybe they didn't even need to pay for those bus ads. Still, at least they seem to have jettisoned the creepy puppets.

They say: "Young, entrepreneurial companies represent our best hope of a recovery, yet many are struggling because they can't get quick access to the credit that they need to cope with everyday challenges”

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Female genital mutilation is not just a women’s issue, it’s a human issue

A new play explores how two women react when their daughters' friend is subjected to FGM.

Alice Denny was born into a body that didn’t feel like hers. There is no one ‘right’ way to live and no one should have to hide who they really are.  For years, she accepted the guise before eventually making the transition she deserved.

“A life and body to finally match my mind,” she says softly, quoting one of her own poems to me. “I know, it’s silly,” she adds in a fluster, but Alice needn’t be so modest. In fact, she should be very proud.

We’re at The Joker, an offbeat bar in Brighton, and Alice explains how the realisation of her womanhood inspired her to take up a leading role in CUT, a community play highlighting the horrors of female genital mutilation (FGM), which premieres in Brighton next week.

“For anything to stop women from being women, I find so upsetting,” Alice tells me with a communicable heartbreak in her voice.

FGM involves the removal of a woman’s clitoris, inner-and-outer lips of the vagina, and the sewing or stapling together of the two sides of the vulva leaving only a small hole to pass urine and menstruate – depending on the variation. Typically, FGM is carried out with a razor blade on girls between the ages of four and 15, often without any anaesthetic.

This misguided practice, fed by some faux-rationale about raising girls properly, is most common among cultural and religious groups in Africa and the Middle East with the World Health Organisation estimating around 125 million cases across the globe. Many of these communities believe FGM will serve to limit a woman’s libido, discourage sexual promiscuity and strengthen the institute of marriage.

“It’s brutal and makes me almost ashamed to be a human being,” Alice states emphatically.

Of course, to take solace in the fact FGM is not as common in Britain, where it is illegal, is to cataclysmically miss the point. It shouldn’t happen anywhere or to anyone. As it is, an approximate 137,000 women in Britain are affected by FGM, but even that number could be more given the ‘hidden’ nature of the crime.

Daughters of some first-generation immigrants and asylum seekers can be at a particular risk, with these girls taken to their countries of origin against their will during the school holidays for the procedure, allowing them time to ‘heal’ before their return. In reality, the lasting effects both physical and psychological never cease completely.

It is a terrifying thought and one that the incisive CUT, written by Suchitra Chatterjee and Susi Mawell-Stewart, explores. The play chronicles the lives of two women, Brona and Kiva, neighbours forced to face up to the problem of FGM on their doorstep when a shared African friend of their daughters is about to be sent away to be mutilated. Parent of two Alice stars as Brona, while Norma Dixit portrays Kiva. 

So what does CUT hope to achieve?  “It’s about trying to break the conspiracy of silence surrounding this issue,” an impassioned Alice reveals.

The former psychiatric nurse continues: “FGM isn’t something that’s isolated to one place or one group of people. It’s a wider feminist issue, a human issue, which needs to be addressed collectively. The play is about raising awareness, a vehicle to say to women to make the world a better place for each other.

“Women matter, never mind culture, never mind traditions of people being subjugated. We matter and we can make our lives what we want them to be. I’ve made my life what I want it to be and I feel so happy about that.

“People who say ‘it’s nothing to do with us,’ of course it is. It’s brutalizing women. I would love people to say, ‘actually I do know something that’s going on and I will go to the police and they will listen to me.’ I want people to be energized and make it their business.”

Admittedly, CUT, directed by Rikki Tarascas, is not for the faint hearted and will no doubt leave the audience shocked in their seats. Then again, that’s the idea.

CUT will premiere at the BrightHelm Community Centre in Brighton on May 10 and features a pre-show event with speeches from, among others, Khadijah Kamara, an FGM survivor and Heather Knott, a former Soroptomist International UK committee member.