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Ad agency iris worldwide faces online backlash over 'iris on benefits' staff booklet

By The Drum Team, Editorial



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September 6, 2012 | 3 min read

London ad agency iris has found itself at the centre of an online controversy following the release of its internal staff benefits booklet, ‘Iris on Benefits.’

Described by iris as a “parody of C4 series ‘Shameless’ and a pun on the word benefits,” the book, and the agency, has come in for criticism on social media websites since being featured in advertising copywriter Holly Brockwell’s Copybot blog.

Brockwell, who works for Albion London, led the charge with her scathing blog entitled: “Ad agency laughs at people on benefits.” Writing on her blog, Brockwell said the booklet was “poking fun at disadvantaged sections of society that they’ve [iris staff] probably never even encountered.”

The booklet itself features iris staff, including CEO and co-founder Ian Millner, dressed as stereotypical ‘Chavs’ and benefit claimants, which Brockwell calls “bloody appalling".

She adds: “I’m sure this was supposed to come across as light and humorous, but it doesn’t. It comes across as sneering, superior and ignorant.”

Since posting the blog yesterday (Wednesday 5 September), it has already amassed over 15,000 hits and, at last check, 86 comments, most of which pillory the agency, ranging from “po-faced, sanctimonious bollocks”, to “truly offensive and patronising,” and “disgraceful.”

The row has also spilled over onto social media sites, most notably Twitter and iris’s own Facebook page.

On Twitter, Laurie Penny (@PennyRed) Tweeted: “Ad agency Iris uses stereotypes of class hatred to mock people on benefits. Disgusting. #classwar”

Simon Francis (@si_francis) commented: “Worst staff handbook. Ever.”

And snoxishere (@snoxishere) echoed their sentiments adding: “Beyond idiotic.”

On iris’s Facebook page commentators are fast getting annoyed with the agency's lack of response to the barrage of criticism it has faced in the last 24 hours. Mike Hoffman posted: “Lot of social media comment showing concern at your "Iris on Benefits" document. Why the campaign of silence? Or is this how you manage social media? Not sure which is worse.”

Ria Campbell also commented: “So you deleted all the comments and haven’t addressed your detractors. Crap.”

The Drum has contacted iris for a response to these comments and is expecting a reply shortly.

Do you think iris's staff handbook was offensive? Discuss your views in the comments section below.


Iris has since offered an apology to any offence caused by the booklet.

Images from the controversial 'iris on benefits' staff handbook

The front cover shows various members of iris worldwide staff dressed as stereotypical 'Chav's'
The page for iris' Gym benefits shows a man in a football strip, Burberry hat, and gold jewellery lifting cheap bottles of cider like free weights.
iris' Paternity section features someone with their feet up watching infamous daytime TV show 'The Jeremy Kyle Show.'
The holiday image is of the stereotypical 'Brits Abroad' look.
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