IT was the advertising campaign which came with strings attached – just like the high-interest loans it was designed to promote.
But now controversial payday lender Wonga is to ditch the “cuddly” puppets it used in adverts.
The characters, which have come under fire from the Advertising Standards Authority after customers claimed they offered misleading information on the firm’s interest rates, are to be axed after the company’s new chairman revealed plans to make the lender less attractive to children.
The puppets are clad in flowery dresses and woolly knits and offer chatty advice to customers.
Chairman Andy Haste, former head of More Than insurance group RSA, said Wonga had made “serious mistakes” in its advertising.
Mr Haste said that the firm – which has more than a million customers – would review rates, fees and charges and would no longer be seen as targeting “the young and the vulnerable”.
“The puppets will be going,” said Mr Haste. “I am going to be reviewing all of our advertising and marketing to make sure that we don’t leave any impression that we are trying to influence or target the very young or the vulnerable.”
Critics of the firm, which has come under fire for offering short term loans at high interest rates to people struggling with their finances, welcomed the move.
Citizens Advice Scotland policy manager Keith Dryburgh said: “There is nothing cuddly or funny about drowning in debt, and that is the situation that many people find themselves in after taking out payday loans they can’t afford to repay.
“Lenders should be responsible in all their marketing, making clear to people the dangers of borrowing as well as the full terms and conditions of the loans they offer.
“Their adverts should reflect the serious nature of taking credit. To portray the process as light-hearted fun is not appropriate.”
Earlier this year, Hearts FC dropped Wonga as its shirt sponsor in a move that was seen as an attempt by the Edinburgh club to distance itself from the lender.
Yesterday, the money-making arm of the Church of England said it was doing “all it can” to avoid unethical investments after severing ties with the company. Andrew Brown, secretary to the Church Commissioners for England, admitted it had been left embarrassed when last year it emerged that money was indirectly invested in Britain’s biggest payday loan company through pooled funds.