The UK government has been forced to apologise over a 'crass' advertising campaign which suggested a ballet dancer could “reboot” their career by moving into cyber security.

Marketing fail: UK government criticised for ‘crass’ ad advising ballerina to retrain in IT

The advert, part of the Government’s Cyber First campaign, featured a young dancer tying up her ballet pumps alongside the caption: “Fatima’s next job could be in cyber. (she just doesn’t know it yet).”

It adds the slogan: “Rethink. Reskill. Reboot.” Today, culture secretary Oliver Dowden admitted the campaign was 'crass.'

The poster - one of several which features people from a variety of other professions - has been heavily criticised on social media, with acclaimed choreographer Sir Matthew Bourne tweeting: "This has to be a joke? Right?"

Number 10 has said the ad was part of a long-running campaign, but admitted that its timing was "not acceptable".

The words were originally penned as part of a wider 'Rethink Reskill Reboot' campaign devised in 2019 run by training company QA in partnership with UK Gov and NCSC to encourage people in existing jobs to consider a career in Cyber. However, the campaign has shifted its target audience, sending mixed messages on the UK government's willingness to save the arts.

The prime minister's official spokesman said: "This is part of a campaign encouraging people from all walks of life to think about a career in cyber security.

"But this particular piece of content was not appropriate and has been removed from the campaign.

"The government recognises the challenge to the cultural industry and today the culture secretary has announced £257m of funding to help support 1,385 theatres, art venues, museums and cultural organisations across England."

Twitter backlash

The campaign, which triggered an angry response from many who accused the government of not sufficiently supporting the creative industries through the pandemic, comes as part of a drive to encourage workers to consider new roles as the jobs market is reshaped by coronavirus.

Shortly after “Fatima” began trending on Twitter, Mr Dowden responded: “To those tweeting re #Fatima. This is not something from @DCMS & I agree it was crass. This was a partner campaign encouraging people from all walks of life to think about a career in cyber security.”

He added “I want to save jobs in the arts”, pointing to the Government’s Culture Recovery Fund, which announced its first recipients today.
The controversy came after Chancellor Rishi Sunak denied encouraging workers in the struggling arts industry to retrain.

Mr Sunak insisted he was talking generally about the need for some workers to “adapt” and suggested there would be “fresh and new opportunities” available for those who could not do their old jobs.

According to Arts Council England, the arts and culture industry contributes more than £10 billion a year to the UK economy, with £3 spent on food, drink, accommodation and travel for every £1 spent on theatre tickets.

“A failure in communication”

Danny Meadows-Klue, CEO at Digital Strategy Consulting, said: “ This is a perfect example of what process failures in communications look like. This execution was an unquestionably bad idea, and it caused damage to many who saw it.

“What's the learning? It went live because their marcoms process either failed to have the right gates for reviewing creative, or failed to have the right people reviewing. A good marketing process empowers brands and creatives. It enables creativity. And it reduces risk. When partners are working on joint campaigns like this one it can still be applied. Hopefully others will learn from this one.”

Government retraining quiz

The anger came after a beta version of a quiz developed by the British government to help people prepare for career changes became the subject of gallows humour among arts workers last week. The Department of Education quiz asked 50 questions to help respondents decide what careers might best suit them.

But those who took the quiz were often perturbed by the suggestions. This reporter took the test last week and was advised to consider a new career in boxing or as a soccer referee. On Twitter, other users shared images of recommendations that they become lock keepers or airline pilots.

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