Is controversy the best promotional tool? #FuckThePoor

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If the headline of this article already made you gasp and grind your teeth in rage, ready to fire an angry email my way, I’ve already made my point – also, please don’t. Just recently, my lovely Features Editor sent me a link to a YouTube video, documenting a campaign entitled #FUCKTHEPOOR.

A social experiment which took place in the crowded, bustling streets of London, this video that lasts just over one minute shows a man in a fluorescent jacket wandering through the crowds with a sandwich bored across his body emblazoned with the words ‘FUCK THE POOR’. In the opening 10 seconds or so, he attracts very little attention as he staggers around with his flyers. Let’s face it, we’ve all walked past promoters, sighing and hoping they don’t force whatever club promotion nonsense they’re peddling today. Most of the time, you probably wouldn’t even notice what they were wearing. However, when the man begins to shout “fuck the poor!” and doing a merry jig of sorts – well my friends, that’s when the magic happens.

The people featured in this video verbally attack the campaigner, getting in a fluster about something. Perhaps if he hadn’t so casually tossed around the four-letter word people wouldn’t have been so offended. Comments like “that’s disgusting” are typical. One shouted “we should be thinking of a better way to get them off the street”, another kind-hearted citizen stuttered “if a guy’s cold, go give him a blanket” – forgive me for being cynical, but I doubt the young man featured has ever in his life approached a homeless person in the streets of London with a cosy blanket. All manner of hate is directed at the offending campaigner, as people get visibly upset and one man – who states that he was homeless for two years – shoves him.

Later that same day, the campaigner turned his sandwich board inside out to show ‘HELP THE POOR’ and rattled his donation bucket. Did anybody care then? Of course not.

The Pilion Trust, the masterminds beThe Pilion Trust, the masterminds behind this social experiment, say that the purpose of the experiment was to see if people really do care about the less fortunate. I’ll admit that I’m no angel, I very rarely carry cash and I’m usually so skint myself that if I see a fund-raiser with his bucket I guiltily keep my eyes on the floor and hope they don’t notice me. Is this a lack of care or is it a fundamental fact of modern marketing that if you cause enough of a stir, you’ll get results? The campaign message is: “We know you care. Please care enough to give.” Savvas Panas, Chief Executive of the Trust, has been quoted as saying “as a charity that has been severely affected by the nationwide decrease in charitable donations (20 percent) and Government cuts (60 percent).” He went on to say that people may well be shocked by the footage, or disapprove of the language used, but: “We are more offended… that people across the United Kingdom are living in adverse poverty.”
The Twitter response to the campaign seems to be largely positive, perhaps because it’s enough to make us feel guilty about the way we treat fund-raisers on the street. One tweeter posted about how watching the video made him feel sick to his stomach. The suffering and plight of others is an issue that will be close to the hearts of many, and yet without controversial messages like this people would go about their daily business and ignore the niggling feeling that they should be doing more. It’s not just about your donations – many students probably aren’t in a position to make generous donations to charities if they can barely afford their rent – videos like this might force ordinary people to consider volunteering their time.

Whether or not this was the best promotional tool is debatable. It certainly must have taken guts for the campaigner to so brazenly shout obscenities and insults in the centre of London. It caused offence, but it also made the Pilion Trust and the work they do a huge talking point that has remained relevant on social media for the past month. In the space of one minute and 20 seconds, this charity have created something that will remain in the minds of many for months to come. I suppose if just one person walks past a fund-raiser, remembers Pilion’s message, and donates £1; they’ve already made progress.

On the other hand, the streets of our capital are littered with homeless and people who struggle to survive. Though I’m sure the Pilion Trust work as hard as they can to support the impoverished, there are some people who will never ask for help or who can never receive enough help. Panas makes a valid point in that government cuts are only worsening the situation for Britain’s poor, Perhaps we should start campaigning to tackle the root of the issue, as well as fund-raising for those in need. “We should be thinking of a better way to get them off the street” is not such an empty statement after all.

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