Vodafone has sparked fury in Egypt after an advert which suggests that it, and its tagline, helped to inspire the revolution in the country earlier this year.
The commercial starts by showing how Vodafone launched its “power to you” Campaign in Egypt on 1 January 2011, three weeks before the uprising.
It goes on to show images from rallies in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, saying: “We didn’t send people to the streets, we didn’t start the revolution… We only reminded Egyptians how powerful they are”.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the film has not had the desired effect. “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,” said the prominent blogger Mohamed El-Dahshan. “Nah — we just watched a Vodafone ad, and thought: ‘Hey! We’re powerful! Let’s topple the president!'”
The video is spectacularly misjudged, given that many pro-change activists accuse Vodafone — and other mobile phone companies — of following Egyptian government orders to implement a communications blackout at the height of the revolution. Vodafone, one of the two largest mobile phone operators in the country, said at the time that it was not responsible for blocking Twitter. “It’s a problem all over Egypt and we are waiting for a solution.”
Vodafone have strenuously denied that this film is anything to do with them, claiming that it was made by their ad agency JWT for internal use only (although, seeing as JWT planned to launch it at Cannes next week, this seems dubious).
Attempting to cash in on the cache of the Arab Spring seems to be something of a trend (see my colleague Laurie Penny on Beyonce’s latest video). At best, this advert is a cynical attempt to commercialise the revolution — at worst, it does a serious disservice to all those who lost their lives.