Channel 4 and Nationwide Building Society have teamed up with the Co-op and Network Rail to create an ad break drawing attention to the shocking abuse faced on a daily basis by customer-facing staff in the UK.
The three-and-a-half minute film, which is being shown during the first break of Gogglebox tonight (16 October) at 9.15pm, features a staff member from each of the three businesses talking in warm terms about the reasons they enjoy their job – all of which involve the reward offered by providing help to the public.
But each of these pieces to camera is overlaid with evidence of the abuse faced by staff: recordings of verbal abuse to Nationwide call-handlers, news headlines of physical and verbal assaults on Co-op staff and real CCTV footage of violence committed against railway station employees.
The film flags up three alarming statistics:
Customer-facing staff working in the UK experience more than 400 abuse incidents every day
43% of shop workers say they have been threatened with physical violence, with one in five mentioning the use of a knife
70% of frontline rail staff have experienced workplace violence in the past 12 months
The ad break activity was brokered by 4Sales, Wavemaker (Nationwide’s media agency), Dentsu (Co-op) and UM Birmingham (Network Rail). The idea was developed in partnership between 4Sales' creative arm Pl4y and The Outfit, which also produced the work.
It is the second time Channel 4 has partnered Nationwide under the #TogetherAgainstHate banner, following an ad break in 2018 in which ads for the building society, as well as for Maltesers and McCain, gradually appeared distorted as online messages of abuse appeared on the screen.
Speaking to Campaign, Nationwide’s chief product and marketing officer, Sara Bennison, said the partnership had been prompted by the realisation that abuse directed at frontline staff was getting worse – particularly since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Bennison argued abuse had already been a growing problem that “goes back to the lack of boundaries people seem to have”. She has previously written in Campaign about the problem of hate and abuse online, and suggested that it had begun to seep into “real world” exchanges: “The more that that seems acceptable online, if you like, the boundary eventually starts to blur.”
But the fact of the pandemic has exacerbated the problem, she said, because it has made almost everyone feel under pressure, but has also created new, dangerous opportunities for mistreating staff.
“Covid has given a whole heap of new weapons to people in terms of abuse,” she said. “Last year, coughing and spitting in someone's face, and licking money and throwing it at them might not have been very pleasant, but it wasn't something that could kill you. That is fundamentally different now.”
Nationwide’s status as a building society meant there was more risk of not speaking out on issues like this, Bennison said. “It's not there for maximising profit, it's there for doing the right thing, for your membership as a whole. And I don't think you can talk about that, and trade on those values, if you then are not consistent with them. If we say one thing and then do another, that gulf is bigger for us [than other brands] so the risk of silence in some ways is bigger.”
But she added Nationwide was also a “very connected kind of organisation” with “an enormously supportive board” that made it easier to take a leadership role on this subject than it may be at other businesses.
“If you stay silent on it, I think you've become complicit in it, and you're sort of saying it's OK,” Bennison added. “And then it just grows and grows and grows. When you spend time with frontline colleagues, when you understand, particularly now, the pressure that they're under, and you understand the impact – I just didn't want to carry on walking by.”