Political correctness gone mad?
There is a huge feminist movement that campaigns for equality in everything where women are concerned. However as time goes on, this starts to leave a bad taste in some people’s mouths and I don’t just mean men. Where do we draw the line? Who campaigns for men? Then there are the LGBT groups, ethnic minorities, disabled and the list goes on. By the time this is published we’ll probably have vegans messaging us and advising they have not been catered for…but who gives a gluten free!
At the Wonderland we are all for equality and have written about disability along with the need for women at the top in the work place etc. But what about political correctness in advertising? Well at times as an agency, we are tasked to sell ice to Eskimos (sorry am I supposed to say ‘Inuit’ here? Or is that just in Canada?) That means we have to be witty, targeted, poke fun at things etc. Basically grab the attention and sell, but at what cost? Our clients constantly say ‘it needs to go viral’…hmmm, it will only go viral if it’s risky or edgy, witty or even dare I say offensive to some. That said, it seems anything these days is offensive to someone. We are a nation of complainers!
Are we our own worst enemies?
For example the use of sexualised content in ads always causes debate (I’ve already talked about swearing previously, another eyebrow raiser), with the use of provocative images of women to reach a male audience or the reverse. For some women, they unfortunately want to aspire to bodies that are heavily Photo-shopped; other women have starved themselves into a size 4 dress. Sigh…
Is this completely wrong? Or is it that it’s not a balanced view? I don’t mean I’m all for the use of anorexic women in advertising (not at all) but maybe much more realistic models in addition to the industry norm would be better. This is an old and long standing debate, however always one that evokes heated opinions. Believe it or not, there are some women that do struggle to actually put on weight and are often made to feel uncomfortable for also being too thin! There are 2 sides to every story and thankfully views are changing, so models in advertising are starting to show a moral balance. Allowing some brands now see opportunities where others don’t…
There are others though that are so swayed by the advertising campaigns we create, that they mentally affect how people see themselves. People’s self-esteem and aspirations can be crushed by advertising and the behaviour others can have towards a person off the back of it. We live in a world where freedom of speech is allowed in most places, yet we now have an industry that has to also curb what is said in order to protect people from themselves. Social media is difficult to regulate and is a self-governing advertising tool in effect. A place where we openly create and share content, good or bad. So as much as sexual content or offensive content can be controlled in the advertising world, it’s still readily available elsewhere. Does it mean the more we try to stop things, the more underground movements and advertising will go and therefore creating a need for, spoof ads, memes and self-created viral content. Will the public eventually control brands more than the brands themselves? Thus at times destroying them overnight?
Times are changing
Turning this on its head, why can’t we just allow a more rounded view in advertising, rather than seek to ban things all the time? In advertising, where do we draw that line? Where does the responsibility lie? Society in general or the agencies and advertisers? Have we (society) created this monster and our actions are actually making our behaviours worse? Why do we have to take things so seriously? I agree there is a line but does that mean we will no longer have our Diet Coke break ads because they are degrading to men?
Sex does still sell however society wants more of everything and with hard core provocative images so readily available online, does sex still sell as well as it did? In some areas the answer here is no, we are exposed to so much openness and sharing now, even that kind of advertising struggles to cut through. Besides, we do have control, (move over ASA) we can change our phone settings, skip ads and change our privacy policies ourselves! Who knew? Don’t get me wrong if you are Ann Summers you have to have a sexy edge and your audience will be looking for that, but in general a scantily clad woman draped on a DFS settee will never be the way to go now or in the future. Again it’s about balance, good judgement, what’s on trend and the brand itself. Look at this year’s super bowl in the US with most ads having some political message rather than purely about selling their goods, it was more about the end user and their beliefs. It was about now. It’s about targeting.
So actually, if you don’t like an ad, maybe it wasn’t actually aimed at you! Should you complain? No move on!
New rulings coming into force
So here’s the rub, with GDPR coming in soon you will be able to have a say in how and if you are targeted with ads (more of a say on your data). Even though you can actually turn some of these things off yourself, the EU are making marketers be more responsible. However what that means is you will receive less targeted content! So ads less relevant to you, how can that be a good thing? Again more complaints to the ASA…no one can win this.
Such complaints have forced yet more changes in a recent statement by the ASA. Advertisements that show men failing at simple household tasks and women left to clean up are set to be banned by the UK Advertising Watchdog. Ads that include stereotypical gender roles will be banned. So what now, do we have to go the other way? Does that mean we can’t show a man fixing a car or using tools, is that now banned or do we need to have a woman stood with a screwdriver and blow torch? Do we now have to gender swap roles? A man stood ironing his wife’s pants passing her a tampon as she grabs herself a Heineken out of the fridge?
For years agencies providing photography for clients such as Universities, where prospectuses are a requirement, has always proved difficult. Try to ensure they have different ethnicities, with males and females, always a must. We also have some companies that now have to advertise and depict, LGBT and disabled groups within their workforce, this is without stereotyping an image. Is this possible in a tasteful or relevant way for some people? Most enjoy a challenge but how far should we go? It’s no longer about discrimination, so surely it’s about inclusion and therefore removing certain things and making more of something, that is classed as a minority, isn’t that then opening the flood gates to just create unnecessary noise because we don’t want to offend anyone. Doesn’t it highlight and segregate those groups even more from today’s society?
Whether we like it or not, sex still sells in appropriate circumstances, fake news resonates, poking fun at others can also (within reason) engage an audience, yet not everyone wants to see political correctness in an ad or have certain lifestyle choices, or beliefs pushed down their throats. Then there are others that are excited by the latest political or social trend and want to jump on that band wagon, including brands. The more restrictions set by the ASA, the tougher and cleverer our industry will need to get. Will control no longer sit with the advertising authorities, just with everyone who shares content created, not by the brands, but that of those who want a voice… That’s you! So who do you complain to then? Well we only have ourselves to blame here.