Wonga and PaydayUK roundly attacked for ‘sinister’ and ‘cynical’ social marketing
Payday lenders including PaydayUK (MEM Capital), QuikQuid and Wonga.com have been exposed using cash competitions to attract new users in a move described by one campaigner as “sinister”.
The companies offer a weekly cash prize to users who ‘Follow’ their brand accounts and ‘Re-tweet’ their messages – in turn developing a large group of ‘followers’ on social media sites, subscribed to the firms advertising messages.
In one particularly contentious example, Wonga’s “@WongaGillian” account asks people to think about what they would do with the money if they won. Responses include messages from customers wanting to buy presents for their children and even using the money to repay loans they have outstanding with the company. Wonga in particular are thought to have distributed thousands of pounds in “prize” money, with PayDayUK rapidly catching up.
What’s the harm?
All sounds pretty innocent so far – a good way to attract publicity cheaply? Then consider this: Who’s going to be attracted to these competitions?
Evidence is, those that are hard-up. The evidence from the messages posted is compelling – people who are struggling, often on benefits. In short, the kind of people who when really stuck might consider Wonga and PayDayUK a good option for £30 until their next benefit payment. This doesn’t apply to all competition entrants of course, but anecdotal evidence is that many entrants on on below-average incomes and, as the competition is run during office hours, there are a lot of stay-at-home and single mothers.
Entry to the competitions is free, and is secured by following the relevant Payday lender’s account (in this case Gillian @ Wonga, but equally the @PayDayExpress account) and re-tweeting the competition message. In so doing, that person’s friends and followers get the message that the entrant thinks “Wonga” (or one of the other Payday lenders) is OK. Payday lending is generally accepted to be a pretty grubby industry – think of ‘Cash Converters’ being known colloquially as ‘Heroin converters’. By making “following” a condition of competition entry, Wonga has built a substantial army of potential customers following the account – and uses it to tweet information about the service at regular intervals, lest people forget about the service!
Some of the online lenders, and Wonga in particular, try to distance themselves from this image, with Wonga going all out describing itself as “The alternative to Payday Lenders”. Wonga reinforces this with cutesy imagery – the Wonga website looks like the backgrounds were painted by the same people doing the sets for Tellytubbies – all a million miles away from a company offering loans at pretty high rates of interest by any standards.