Consumers have spoken in Minneapolis, MN, telling USI Wireless to remove a set of billboards that used an image of a prostitute to promote its services. The company, which has a taxpayer-funded 10-year, $12.5 million contract with the city to provide wireless service, initially ignored complaints, but finally took action in response to a public outcry on Facebook.
The original ad features a woman who, by her dress and mannerisms, could easily be construed as a prostitute, especially when matched with the slogan: “Fast, Cheap and Satisfaction Guaranteed.” Hey, USI, way to be tacky and harmful. Surely there are cleverer ways to advertise wireless service without bundling it in with prostitution? Concerned citizen and USI customer Stacey Burns thought so and filed a complaint with the company, saying, “I appreciate that this ad tested well in the market, but I ask you to consider the impact of normalizing prostitution and human trafficking.” Indeed!
Burns then teamed up with local City Council Member Gary Schiff, who also spoke with the company. But it wasn’t until they all got on Facebook and drew in comments from several other concerned citizens that USI responded and removed the billboards. Operations Manager Sam Turner stated, “We didn’t mean to offend anyone. Our response to the overall situation is we didn’t, and don’t, feel that the spokesmodel from the ad looks like a prostitute. We’ve seen way worse.”
Riiight. First of all, the argument that your own actions “aren’t as bad” as someone else’s actions and are therefore acceptable is beyond lame. Second, if the company really felt like the woman didn’t look like a prostitute, why did they then switch her out with a guy who looks a whole lot like a pimp? Scroll down on blogger Robin Marty’s RH Reality Check post for a peek at the second ad, also vetoed, which features the truncated slogan of “Fast and Cheap” next to a mustachioed, hairy-chested, medallion-wearer with an expression of, “Have I got a deal for you.” Yes, that’s the sort of gentleman one associates with selling … wireless service. (No sarcasm.)
Marty’s blog also reveals the third and final billboard ad, featuring a child blowing a bubble pipe and the slogan, “Put that in your pipe and smoke it. Save money, choose USI Wireless.” Someone on the PR team for USI Wireless apparently can’t think outside the “illicit, damaging behaviors” box when drafting an ad campaign. The results are kinda tasteless, in my humble opinion, but as Marty suggests, perhaps D.A.R.E. could have a few words with the company about that one.
In the meantime, it’s good to see that everyday U.S. citizens can and do care enough about the issue of sex trafficking to speak up against a company that was either uninformed or didn’t care.
Photo credit: dno1967