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Virgin Mobile - Run Wycelf Run (cinema version)

Company: Virgin Group
    View Company Scorecard | Contact Company
Brand: Virgin Mobile
Ad Title: Run Wycelf Run (cinema version)
Business Category: Telecommunications
Media Outlets: Cinema
Country: United Kingdom
Region: North America, Europe
Agency: Y&R
Year: 2002
Target: Mainstream
Ad Spotter: Chris Cooper
Company: Virgin Group
    View Company Scorecard | Contact Company
Brand: Virgin Mobile
Ad Title: Run Wycelf Run (cinema version)
Business Category: Telecommunications
Media Outlets: Cinema
Country: United Kingdom
Region: North America, Europe
Agency: Y&R
Year: 2002
Target: Mainstream
Ad Spotter: Chris Cooper
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Cell phone brand Virgin Mobile's ad features Haitian-American musician Wyclef Jean, who is arrested by a Southern U.S. sheriff and thrown into prison. As the inmates shower together, an enormous prisoner tells Jean to pick up a bar of soap on the floor -- a reference to prison rape.

When it was just a few weeks old, the ad registered a few negative comments to the ITC -- something a Virgin Mobile spokesman jokingly refers to as "poor performance."

Other ad references to predatory gay men and male rape have already made appearances this year in the U.S. for 7Up, Saturn and IKEA.

Virgin spokesman Steven Day dismisses the soap joke as just a "nominal gay reference" and isn't worried about gay backlash. "We've used a fair amount of overt gay imagery. We're generally well received in the gay community and we don't treat minorities as minorities." He says the ad was put through focus groups that included gay people "to make sure the sensitivities were okay. And we had some gay people working on it too."

Day explains, "A lot of our ads are edgy and follow in the tradition of Virgin. The Virgin brand is about humor. But our aim is not to shock, it is to get a smile.""

With its phone service introduced to the U.S., over the summer, Virgin Mobile is running another gay-themed commercial on MTV, which parodies a 1950s-era instructional films and shows how not to react when someone gives you a phone -- two men hug and one grabs the other's rear, then a shrill buzzer sounds and a red "No!" appears on screen.

Virgin Mobile also recently carried a billboard ad in the UK featuring two soldiers holding hands, about the time England began allowing openly gay soldiers to serve.

"We would argue that the debate about homosexuality (in advertising) has moved on," says Day at Virgin Mobile. In fact, he adds, "To not allow a homosexual reference for humor is giving it special preference. We think people are grown enough to see it as a joke and not homophobic or racist,"

The Virgin Group brand empire has a long history of leveraging gay themes in ads as well as seeking the gay market. Directed by brash British billionaire Richard Branson, Virgin Atlantic Airways was the first airline to target gays in the U.S. in 1994, and Virgin Cola brought the first same-sex kiss commercial to America in 1998.

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Richard Parsons , Decatur, GA
Virgin Mobile is awful, so it's no shocker that their ads would be so as well. Yeah, this one is just as bad as it is wrong.
John B. , Tampa
I think you're being over sensitive. I'm very out and I don't think there was anything there offensive. It's a prison, for pete's sake. It was a comment about prison life rather then a comment about gay men.

Dan Cheek , Ashland, KY
Rape is never funny and depicting gay men as predatory is a mistaken stereotype to be DIScouraged, not encouraged even for profit.

Tom Lewis , Knoxville, TN
Get Over It! I am so sick of the hyper-sensitive, psychotically politically correct instigating "debate" over nothing. I am a completely out gay man in my mid 30's and I see nothing wrong with this ad. I actually find it humorous, ostensibly the goal of the writers. I sincerely hope, as is stated in the article, "that the debate about homosexuality has moved on." While image and perception are important aspects of acceptance and inclusion, isn't it more important to focus on issues of substance rather than whining about the possible response of the polarized extremes, the bible-thumping fundamentalist right or the ultra politically correct left. Gay men are known and revered for their caustic, intelligent wit, of which this ad is only a mild example.

Richard Phillips , Hollywood, CA
I would like to offer the following challenge to Mr. Steven Day, Yahoo, Virgin and all the others involved in the "creative" process of bringing this ad to life: recast it, but this time use a man and woman! Please let Yahoo, Virgin and all the rest know that RAPE is NOT "gay themed!" Rape is not sexual; be it involving same-sex persons or otherwise. These ads are both in "jaw-dropping" bad taste! By-the-way, just who were these so-called "focus" groups that the Virgin ad campaign people seem so proud of? Surely there must have been at least one sensible person present who could have/should have/would have pointed out the rather STRANGE "customer" demo-graphics this ad seems directed toward. Now I can take a joke as well as the next person, but you know, I hardly ever see my RATIONAL, DOWN-TO-EARTH point of view reflected in MOST of these multi-million dollar advertising campaigns, which seek to use humor to sell goods and services in today's market place. What I generally see is a great deal of tacky commercials, wallowing in remarkable levels of plain old BAD TASTE! I would love to have just five minutes with one of these highly paid advertising people; he or she would get an enlightening earful.

Edward Hall , Sanford, FL
I don't think the commercial went too out of hand. I don't see where it is a gay issue. It's a prison rape joke. Okay, I apologize to anyone that has been raped while in prison but keep a light heart. I think the opening scene is a bit more disgusting then the closing.

Todd Hill , Montreal
The beginning of this nearly incomprehensible (visually, thematically and aurally) commercial's storyline made NO sense, so the only part that actually could be followed was at the end and it was highly offensive. Thanks to you folks at Virgin Mobile -- for confirming my already low opinion of you based on your other commercials. You've given me one more reason to *NEVER* buy a product or service from you or your parent company. I sure hope that was the intended effect because I suspect I'm not alone in my decision to spend my money elsewhere...

Shane D. , Ann Arbor, MI
Rape is never funny, but a joke about rape (or murder or even war) may be funny. No one was raped in the making of this ad, and no one with a brain will infer anything about gay men from watching it. Hysterical protests over trivial things are one reason people are not as inclined as one might like to listen to legitimate grievances. These protests about how an ad or film with a reprehensible gay character or two "depicts gay men" also manifest a condescending attitude toward the viewing public, as if they generalize stupidly from every fictional character they see. They are more likely to generalize--negatively -- from all the hypersensitive whining they hear in real life.

Vance W. , Swindon, UK
I appreciate the concern over certain sections of society with homophobic tendencies who may view the ad as an excuse to spread their irrelevant rhetoric.
As a heterosexual male, I must admit that I had not given the content any "tag." It is, however, generally accepted that within a single gender group, which has no opportunity to experience anything but single-sex relationships, usually "straight" people will obtain sexual release with a willing partner. It is also true that sexual predators are not restricted to gay members of any community, as shown in the ever growing numbers of sexual crimes committed mainly by males, against men and women. The fact that the ad is set in a prison shower and that the character is new to the prison, is probably a true reflection of prison life.

Geoff Coupe , Gouda, The Netherlands
Hmm, where to start with this disaster of an advert? The punchline is a reference to homosexual activity - same-sex rape - and not to the "portrayal of homosexuality". And frankly, I don't find rape a subject that has much that is humourous about it, so I suppose, in the eyes of Virgin spokesman Steven Day, that I am just not grown enough to see it as a joke. Day clearly doesn't see the difference as he dismisses the soap 'joke' as just a "nominal gay reference". Day adds, "To not allow a homosexual reference for humor is giving it special preference." I agree, but this reference was not about homosexuality, but about rape. Day seems proud of Virgin's record of its use of "overt gay imagery" in its ads. Yet it is interesting that the ads that were generally well received were *not* made by Young & Rubicam. The output for Virgin from that particular agency (with one exception - the Army poster) push all the wrong buttons for me. Clearly, Day thinks that there is no such thing as bad publicity. Time will tell. In the meantime, I am in no hurry to sign up with Virgin Mobile. This ad, and its stablemate, the "Hamster" ad are contemptible.

Joel Friedland , Forest Hills, NY
NO. NO. NO. This cinema ad should never have seen the light of day. The prison shower gay scene may be the best of it. Wyclef Jean running through the forest recalls Birth of a Nation. Here's what "Film Commetary by CGK" says about the scene it copies: "Also problematic is the sequence where the "renegade Negro," Gus, chases Flora Cameron through a forest full of shadows broken up by patches of light. From an aesthetic standpoint, this segment is one of the most well-constructed in the film with its outdoor imagery lending a natural sense of beauty to the suspenseful chase. Gus, however, is simply a caricature of inherent barbarism or a symbol on which to project exaggerated fears, and the girl's suicide intends to provide justification for the Klan's striking back on the grounds of racial hatred."

John , Antioch, CA
Prison rape is not necessarily homosexual. Rape is not sexual, it's violent. So this ad may not be "gay-themed". This ad is however in poor taste and disrespectful to rape victims. Rape is never funny and should never be joked about.

Bobby , Warsaw, MO
This ad has nothing to do with gays or gay life. It has more to do with prison and the antiquated statement that, when in prison, one should avoid "dropping the soap" in a shower.

Brian , Washigton, DC
It also puts down Wyclef's rap image, stating he will get screwed in jail or his career. Most people think he's hip-pop. Comparing getting raped to failing a contract is really offensive. Virgin has these odd commercials because, well, they are British and humor is focused on gays.

Mayer Margolis , Santa Monica, CA
That joke was old when Joe Miller was a teenager but there is nothing new about old bad jokes in commercials. I don't think it's particlulary anti-gay but it is a stereotypical prison joke. Old sterotypical jokes in commercials are kind of comfortable - something like an old pair of loafers.

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