It’s time we stepped back and just took a moment

The Blogfather goes after the ASA with both barrels (not for the first time) after they ban a couple of ads for Philadelphia Cheese and Volkswagen, and also considers the sight of KFC’s Colonel Sanders performing a DJ set.

The Blogfather, whilst being far from perfect (who mentioned gun-running?), has certainly never left a child anywhere that they shouldn’t have been left. Like, on a restaurant buffet conveyor belt, for example.

That would be ridiculous. Such a farcical scene would never happen in real life. No way. Most humans could disconnect such a Laurel & Hardy-esque scene from being a possible reality. I’m sure they can, I have faith in people.

But it is exactly such a scene that has angered the masses about a hundred people, resulting in an ad from the oft-controversial cheesemongers Philadelphia being one of two ads that are the first to be banned under new UK gender stereotyping rules.

It was banned as complainants and the ASA believe it perpetuated a harmful stereotype by suggesting that men were incapable of caring for children.

Some 128 people complained. Of these, 99.97% were vegan virtue signallers, trying to bring down the soft cheese industry*.

This wasn’t the only ad to incur the wrath of the public a few people; a new VW advert has also been banned for similar reasons. It features men doing ‘manly’ adventurous things, juxtaposed to a woman sitting on a bench next to a pram.

The ASA said the ad presented gender stereotypes "in a way that was likely to cause harm and therefore breached the code."

For the VW advert, the levels of public outrage were less severe, with three people complaining.

Yep, three people.

Let’s contrast this to the hundreds of thousands of people on the streets for pro-democracy protests in HK.

For the VW advert, the levels of public outrage were less severe, with three people complaining. Yep, three people. Let’s contrast this to the hundreds of thousands of people on the streets for pro-democracy protests in HK.

Hey, let’s even contrast this to genuinely huge public outrage when Cadbury Creme Egg changed their recipe and subsequently lost £6m in sales.

You couldn’t even fill one VW car with the amount of people that complained about the fecking ad.

Leaving aside the argument of whether the content is truly harmful or not, if we assume these three people never complained, would the ad would still be on the TV? So, to a large degree, three people have effectively decided whether an ad should be on TV.

Our priorities are wrong on this one. Something is out of kilter and wrong in this process, when 131 people’s opinion goes a long way to dictating that two ads are banned on behalf of the people. There must have been a few million people who saw the ads and were not moved to complain. It’s a bit like 150,000 white, slightly right-wing, middleclass men in their fifties deciding that Boris Johnson will be our new Prime Minister.

The main problem with the Philadelphia advert, and the VW one to a lesser degree, is that it is just a bit shite. A bit meh.

Somewhat ironically, both ads had made efforts to ensure they didn’t fall foul of the self-righteous brigade, hence there being two males in a parenting/caring role in the cheese ad, rather than the usual women, and by VW also depicting a lady as calm and thoughtful, rather than in the stereotypical mode of panic.

It is this fear of stepping out of line which has probably resulted in the average adverts. The best work comes out of taking a bit of a risk. Clearly, this doesn’t mean negligently releasing work with base stereotypes, but by not being constrained by assuming you are going to get into trouble and some people won’t like it.

When in the whirlwind of craziness and bollocks that often wafts around, it’s sometimes good to read articles about our industry that are not written by the industry, to get a more object view on how the world sees marketing and advertising (we do love to overstate our importance), and also to avoid the jargon-filled crap that populates a lot of publications.

I read one such article on the 20-year anniversary of the publication of Naomi Klein’s book, ‘No Logo’. It’s well worth a read, but two specific snippets jumped out at me:

“Nike CEO, Mark Parker, responded to the controversy by telling Marketing Week he was proud of the [Colin Kaepernick] ad: it was a success because it drove “record engagement”. Not sales – brand engagement. “We’re motivated to inspire our consumers to connect and engage,” Parker continued. Not buy trainers.”

A reminder here that we can get sucked into chasing engagement and metrics, and forget that we exist to help sell more stuff.

And also this:

“…That’s why “experiential marketing” (PR stunts, in old money) is the ad-land buzz phrase. Senior marketeer Hilary Bradley told Campaign magazine last autumn that millennials in particular needed “memorable experiences” to help them “emotionally connect” to a product.”

Millennials. Memorable experiences. Emotionally connect. Jesus.

You just need to motivate people to buy your product or service some of the time and, to paraphrase Rory Sutherland, just make sure they do not think it is utterly shit.

The main problem with the Philadelphia advert, and the VW one to a lesser degree, is that it is just a bit shite. A bit meh.

I assume someone at KFC must have had a chat to Hilary Bradley, as otherwise it is hard to fathom why the hell they went to try and emotionally connect and create memorable experiences for their consumers by securing legit festival DJ slots for Colonel FCK-ing Sanders.

Now, I like KFC as a brand, they’ve done some great work, especially when dealing with all that bother about being a fried chicken brand with no actual chicken to sell, but this is the kind of stuff that happens when you drink from the experiential/sponsorship well too much, having also taken a few ‘shrooms.

All this talk of  creating great, uninhibited work, PR stunts and ‘experiential’ brings to mind our most recent podcast episode with the highly talented designer and art director Lee Davies. He chatted to us on a whole cheese board of diverse stuff, including a cool event his agency Peter & Paul did for Leeds Art University, and the new BT logo:

“I wasn’t reacting to the logo. It was the fact there was a news story attached to a black and white logo. Is this a ploy just to get in the news? I was cynical: ‘let’s share the black and white version with the Guardian, and they’ll write a piece’. I was more upset by the fact that a shit logo gets in the news.”

Go listen to a talented voice of reason amongst all the craziness, and enjoy.

*There is no evidence to support this.



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