Sensis – social responsibility isn’t about patronising the needy about their socks

I wish I could put my finger on what it is that makes this social issues campaign for Sensis feel so icky:  

I think the main thing is that I can hear the strategy meeting at DDB Melbourne in my head.

“So we need to make Sensis look like a good corporate citizen.”

“But a mandatory is that we tie it back to the brand.”

“But the brand is an irritating sock puppet.”

“I’ve got it! Let’s give socks to the homeless.”

“Brilliant. But hang on – we’ve got to get the phone number in somehow.”

“How about we give away 1234 socks?”

“Genius. Pub?”

The thing is though, despite the moody music, the subject of the video really isn’t as interested as the interviewer in talking about socks.

There’s something inherently creepy about listening to an ad wanker patronise the heck out of a man with schizophrenia about his socks.

“How long do your socks last?”

“How many pairs of socks do you think you go through every year?”

And most painfully patronising of all: “So a fresh pair of socks must be pretty great?”

Yes. The lack of socks is the big problem in my life. Thank you Sensis for solving that problem. My life will now be, as you suggest, pretty great and I’m sure the schizophrenia will clear up on its own.

What a neat solution, and all brought to us through the kindness of Sensis.

(Hat-tip: Adnews for campaign details)

All becomes a little clearer on the 1234 Project Facebook Group Page:

The 1234 Project is brought to you by the guys at 1234 and was founded on a simple premise – if there’s a need, there’s an answer.

Every month we’ll pull together a community to find those answers. One month we might help a charity, the next – free use of our 1234 SMS service. Followed by a review of the best eateries in town. Whatever it is, The 1234 Project will act as a channel to deliver this goodness to you.

We’ll donate a pair of socks for every person who ‘likes’ (and follows) The 1234 Project (up to 12,340 pairs). The first delivery of socks will be dispatched throughout Australia through Mission Australia when we reach 500 fans. After that, deliveries will be made to Mission Australia service centres throughout winter.

The 1234 Project promotes Telstra Corporation Limited’s 1234 service which is available to most Telstra customers (in Australia). Call fee: $1.40 (plus standard mobile charges). SMS fee: $1.40 per request. Attempted connection charge: $0.99. Standard charges for connected calls.

Good-hearted Facebook folk are then invited/ manipulated to market the group to their friends (it’s already hit 13,673 sign-ups). That second paragraph is the key. It is, of course, about building up a group of people who in the future can have Sensis products shoved down their throats.

If Sensis cares that much about the homeless, then why not just donate the socks? A two-minute search on the internet delivers a price of less than $8,000 for 12,340 pairs or 62c per pair – and that’s without negotiating a bulk discount. I’m willing to bet it costs them less than half that.

That 62c looks a bit feeble compared to a $1.40 call to 1234, doesn’t it?

So the chances are that Sensis is paying DDB significantly more to do the project than the sockless homeless folk are ever going to get.

Brands doing the right thing to be socially responsible is a good thing. Agencies inventing problems in service of the brand, not so much.

Tim Burrowes


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