This paper examines how employees respond to managements’ conflicting use of technocratic forms of control to ensure efficiency and socio-ideological control to produce an ‘on brand’ employee identity. The paper proposes a portrait-based form of ethnography as a way to illustrate both commonalities and differences in employees’ identity work and responses to managerial control within the call centre setting. The findings show that cynical distancing – and subtle enactment of the service brand – grows out of simultaneous embracing of and distancing from the contested work role. The study extends the concept of cynical distance as well as advances our understanding of how the tandem of socio ideological and technocratic control may work through employees’ cynical distancing. Finally, the paper argues for more nuanced insights into the identity work of call centre employees to fully understand negative but also positive consequences of managerial control in this specific setting.