Changing how the world thinks about nursing

Join our Facebook group

Virgin Mobile's merry pranksters

March 5, 2005 -- Today the Toronto Star posted a story about nurses' outrage over a new Virgin Mobile Canada ad campaign featuring naughty "nurse" models equipped to "maximize your pleasure" by relieving consumers of "The Catch," a mock venereal disease associated with rival mobile service providers. The campaign is aimed at introducing Virgin Mobile to the youth-dominated Canadian mobile market. It kicked off on March 1 with a Toronto event in which Virgin mogul Richard Branson made a superhero entrance, rescued three naughty nurse models, and joined them for a snowball fight. The campaign also includes print ads and point of sale cardboard displays of the "nurses," and TV ads appear to be on the way. The Registered Nurses Association of Ontario (RNAO) is, like, having some chick fit about it, all on about a boycott, a public apology and getting the ads pulled, but yo, these Virgin nurse babes are like so worth it!

The Toronto Star story by Tyler Hamilton reports that the Toronto event starting the campaign featured "superhero" Branson sliding down a cable from the top of a downtown building to a public square, hopping in a monster truck and driving over three cars, rescuing the three "nurses" who were chained to the vehicles, and then engaging in a "playful snowball fight" with the nurses, who were "bleach blond models" wearing stiletto-heeled boots and short skirts. We could probably write a book about the multifaceted ugliness of this scenario, which makes beer commercials seem evolved, but we'll stick to nursing. The broader ad campaign reportedly compares rival mobile providers' service plans to a venereal disease called "The Catch." One print ad apparently reads "maximizes your pleasure" and shows a "nurse" holding a bottle of pills meant to "cure" the catch. Life-sized cut-outs of the "nurse" models reportedly began appearing this week in Virgin Mobile retail outlets. Apparently a television campaign is also in the works. The piece notes that industry observers believe the controversy over the ads will simply generate more publicity, and quotes a Virgin spokeswoman explaining that the company did not intend to offend but was "not sorry" and would not pull the ads: "It's really meant to be quite tongue-in-cheek...Virgin's marketing is about being fun, edgy and irreverent...We think it will really connect with our target market." One analyst agrees that the campaign is unlikely to offend the youth market it's aimed at, and suggests that generating this kind of controversy might even have been planned.

Meanwhile, the 21,000-member RNAO has reportedly demanded an apology from Branson and an immediate stop to the campaign, and called on members to boycott Virgin Mobile. Executive director Doris Grinspun argues that "[t]his is a stereotype of women and nurses we have been fighting for half a century. If [Branson] wants to find a controversy, he should find one involving his own gender." (That seems like a good idea: instead of using sex to degrade young female nurses, how about a campaign about the sexual endurance of young males? Like maybe, "More free minutes for the minute men!" Oh--that wouldn't work for Virgin Mobile? Why not? It's fun, edgy and irreverent!) The RNAO acknowledges that its campaign may give the company more publicity, but rightly notes that it can't be silent given the "egregiousness" of the representation of nurses.

What's wrong with a little naughty nurse imagery? Well, to start with, the opening event's suggestion that nurses are helpless sex objects waiting to be "rescued" by some egomaniacal rich guy sends just the wrong message about the profession (and women generally). As for the campaign as a whole, linking sexual images so closely to the profession of nursing--to even the fantasy idea that working nurses are sexually available to patients--reinforces long-standing stereotypes. Those stereotypes continue to discourage practicing and potential nurses (especially men), foster sexual violence in the workplace, and contribute to a general atmosphere of disrespect. At ground level, the devaluation of nursing translates into an underpowered profession that may not be strong enough to save your life when you need it to do so. Desexualizing the nursing image is a key part of building the strength the profession needs to overcome the current shortage, which is a global public health crisis.

Mr. Branson's recent Fox reality show "The Rebel Billionaire" capitalized on the telegenic maverick's well-known penchant for dramatic stunts. If he is interested in something truly heroic, he will put an end to his company's cynical attempt to sell its services using the same tired, braindead stereotypes that have held nurses back for decades and that now threaten lives worldwide. But changing minds and admitting errors, like many adult activities, are a lot harder than making money with dysfunctional testosterone fantasies.

 

See the March 5, 2005 Toronto Star article by Tyler Hamilton "Nurses plan boycott of Virgin Mobile over ads that `demean' profession: Shown wearing short skirts and stilettos. Demand Branson publicly apologize. Which was reprinted in the CTV.

Also see a glowing article by David Silverberg "Virgin Hopes to Seduce Canada with Mobile Phone Launch" in the March 1, 2005 edition of the Digital Journal. The Toronto Star (Tyler Hamilton) also covered the event with "Branson leaps into mobile market", fawning over Branson's "incredible marketing savvy."

July 2009 -- This campaign is now closed.

Full contact information for the PR team at Virgin Mobile:

Paula Lash
Director of PR
Virgin Mobile
720 King St. W
Toronto, ON
M5V 2T3
paula.lash@virginmobile.ca
1.416.607.8592 or 1.416.655.5555

Nathan Rosenberg
Director of PR
Virgin Mobile
720 King St. W
Toronto, ON
M5V 2T3
nathan.rosenberg@virginmobile.ca
1.416.556.6000

Virgin Mobile fax
1.888.999-9470

Jen Koster
Hill & Knowlton
160 Bloor Street East, Suite 700
Toronto, Ontario
M4W 3P7 Canada
jen.koster@hillandknowlton.ca
1.416.413.4615

Selena Gardner
Hill & Knowlton
160 Bloor Street East, Suite 700
Toronto, Ontario
M4W 3P7 Canada
selena.gardner@hillandknowlton.ca
1.416.413.4739


 

 

‚Äč