(Toilet) roles and responsibilities

In this blog I’d like to draw your attention to a competition Virgin Trains are currently running to find up to five people to be the new voice of their on-board talking toilets. Yes, you read me right and, yes, it is a delicate subject for a post, but the promotion has attracted quite a lot of publicity and it’s a nice concept that’s been well-executed.

The campaign is fronted by Eastenders actor Dean Gaffney and he’s a good choice, because he presents as being not very sharp and not a particularly good actor either. That’s his public persona and the promotion plays on it (in person he’s probably the epitome of urbane sophistication, but I’ve never met him and have no idea).

OK, I appreciate that this might come across as rather lazy, but I’ve decided it’s too risky/cringey (delete as applicable) to come up with my own puns on this topic, so I’m going to quote the introductory competition blurb at some length, because it’s a good piece of copywriting and quite funny. Right then, here goes:

“To help you with your audition we’ve enlisted none other than Dean Gaffney – cleverly disguised as a bot. You’re sure to be flushed with success after Dean has lifted the lid on his top audition techniques. Don’t pretend you’ve never wanted to DM Dean Gaffney… Audition now for the toilet role of a lifetime. We hope it pans out for you…”

When you click the ‘enter now’ button, you’re instantly transferred to Messenger and an automated chat with Dean, which takes you through the entry details and prepares you for an audition. For clarity, though, I should tell you that I haven’t completed the whole process, just in case I accidentally end up as the voice of a talking toilet, which I suspect wouldn’t enhance my professional reputation, but it’s all very clever.

As I say, this has been a reasonably high-profile promotion and it’s drawn the attention of Equity, the actors’ union, with the Stage reporting highly critical comments from Equity’s low pay no pay industrial organiser, Charlotte Bence.

She said, “Offering unpaid voice-over work as a competition is completely unacceptable… Equity members are all-too-familiar with so called ‘opportunities’ like this being used as a way to deny them work paid at an appropriate rate… Voice-over artists are skilled professionals, much like Virgin Train’s on-board crew or drivers, whose work they would never dream of opening up to this kind of bogus competition. Equity believes Virgin should apologise, withdraw this competition and engage with Equity over appropriate, industry-standard rates for the job.”

Now as far as I can see Virgin hasn’t responded and it certainly doesn’t seem to have cancelled the competition, but Ms Bence has got a point – and it’s the same point that’s often raised in relation to photography competitions or other promotions which ask people to enter content that might otherwise be created by someone who would be paid to do it.

In this instance, Dean Gaffney was presumably paid, probably quite handsomely, to be the face of the promotion, so I’m not sure you can accuse Virgin of being cheapskate, and I’m certain that Dean is an Equity member, too, so at least someone the union represents was employed on the project. However, I understand that it’s a serious matter and it’s something I always raise with clients.

Ultimately, the client has to decide whether structuring the competition in this way will damage consumer perceptions of their brand or whether, like Virgin Trains, they reckon they can get away with being a little bit ‘cheeky’…

Sarah Burns is Prizeology’s Chief Prizeologist.

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