MullenLowe London, Persil Want to ‘Free the Kids’

By Erik Oster 

MullenLowe London launched a new spot for U.K.-based laundry detergent brand Persil as part of its “Dirt is Good” campaign entitled “Free the Kids” which makes an unusual comparison designed to shock. 

The spot opens with a look at real prison inmates and the importance of their two hours a day of outside recreational activity. “It’s everything to me,” one man succinctly puts it, “It’s probably the most important part of my day,” says another.

“Everything in the film was shot for real with a tiny crew of five, under genuine documentary conditions,” director Toby Dye said, in a statement. “Staying true to the documentary approach, we were open to allowing the unscripted and unplanned-for occurrences of filming real life shape our finished film.”

When asked how they would feel if their outdoors time was cut to just an hour a day, inmates respond that they would “feel pretty sad about it,” that it would “build more anger” and “it would be torture.” A prison guard, meanwhile, says such a move would be “potentially disastrous.” Shortly after these questions, the spot jumps off the rails, with interviewers asking inmates “Do you know who does have only one hour outdoors per day?” before proving the answer: “children” followed by the revelation “On average, children now spend less time outdoors than a prison inmate” appearing onscreen.

The comparison, of course, is a bizarre one. Adweek referred to it as “too absurd and calculating in its bid for controversy to be convincing,” and we’re prone to agree. To arrive at such a comparison is to intentionally miss the point in an attempt to frame things a certain way, which doesn’t exactly make for a compelling argument. Outdoor time for inmates is their only respite from their cells, while many children see it as an unwelcome break from screen time and educators have to balance the value of outdoor recreation with academic pursuits. There’s certainly an argument to be made for the need for children to spend more time outdoors, but presented the way it is here, in an ad for laundry detergent, reeks of exploitation. To their credit, the inmates take the setup in stride, expressing disappointment with the amount of time kids spend outdoors, before the ad ends with the “Free the Kids” tagline and a call for viewers to visit the campaign website