Advertising justice: today’s case

4 Jun

I’m fascinated by ads that cause controversy. If you’ve read many of the posts on this blog, you know that already.

I have google alerts in place to make sure I don’t miss the good ones. It’s part of my own process as an ad guy to map out the edges of the envelope that I intend to push.

Controversy is usually about public sentiment. That’s more interesting to me than which ads win awards where. That’s just the industry admiring itself.  What the public thinks is what matters. The risks and rewards lie here.

grumpy old lady

Grumpy Agnes

Sometimes real screw-ups by ad agencies happen. A lot of the time Agnes in Comox Valley just has too much time on her hands and has to gripe. But that’s for you, gentle consumer, to decide!

Today’s case to consider and render a verdict on: The new Halifax safe-driving-on-the-bridges campaign.

Say hello to Bridget. She is the sexualized face of the campaign. (Bridges: Bridget – get it?)

There are billboards, radio spots and a twitter campaign to get people to pay attention. You will find the details of the case here.

THE EVIDENCE

Sexy Bridget toll booth basket

Billboard with Bridget in Halifax

THE PROSECUTOR

A sexual assault centre claims the campaign uses sex gratuitously and actively promotes violence against women (for example, the coin receptacle for the toll-bridge results in drivers throwing coins at Bridget’s face).

THE DEFENDANT

The client, Halifax Harbour Bridges, responds that she’s not a victim, and in fact they were going for a strong female character using her power, in the vein of the Avengers or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. (The Prosecution rebuts that she’s using sex to sell her message, so it doesn’t represent a woman in power.)

THE EXPERT WITNESS

A university professor says it straddles the line! (He put on his cleanest cardigan and that’s the best he could come up with?)

THE GALLERY

A guy driving his car on the bridge says “it’s brilliant!” A woman driving on the bridge says “it makes me feel like I’m in a strip club.”

THE JUDGEMENT

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the verdict is now in your capable hands. What say you!

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10 Responses to “Advertising justice: today’s case”

  1. hitgirl June 4, 2012 at 10:30 am #

    Dear prosecution: How do you define power? I’m sure we all agree that (many) women have a lot of sexual power. I say power is power.

    • Doug Brown June 4, 2012 at 10:37 am #

      From the court reporter: I wonder if the case for the prosecution was really about the campaign being aimed at men and ignoring most women. I like your point though – power just is. It’s all about what you do with it.

  2. Bryan Dwyer June 4, 2012 at 11:15 am #

    The notion that throwing coins at Bridget’s face promotes violence towards women seems spurious, However, the ad feels clumsy. The target audience is young men, and the message must be humorous and come from a person. Solution? Hypersexual woman with a pun for a name rejects men who break traffic laws.

    If the consumer insight is that target males adapt behaviour to the expectations of sexy women, how does a fictional, traffic-conscious siren address this? As a fictional character, Bridget has no credibility that women prefer safe drivers; we can only assume she prefers safe drivers, and as a fictional character what chance do they really have with her? Second, and perhaps more damning, some studies have shown that men tend to ignore the text in sexual advertising. These men are more likely to just grow more fond of the bridge. So, sure it grabs more attention, but I would be surprised if it influences safe behaviour more than a tasteful, clever campaign would.

    And if the goal is safety, I’m not sure if grabbing men’s attention from the road and giving them a shot of testosterone was really the best option.

    • Doug Brown June 4, 2012 at 11:24 am #

      “As a fictional character, what chance do they really have with her?” Bryan, that’s the best comment ever!

      I welcome a discussion of the effectiveness of the ads here certainly, but you can be sure that this conversation was immaterial to those finding issue with the campaign. Wouldn’t you be willing to put up with some sexy siren telling you she likes her men to take it slow if it led to an appreciable reduction in accidents on the bridges? I would.

      Thanks for the good, thoughtful comment Bryan. One rarely hears a rational word said around a hot-button issue.

    • Alan Quarry (@aquarry) June 5, 2012 at 5:37 pm #

      Um, what Bryan said!!

      • Doug Brown June 5, 2012 at 6:49 pm #

        A worthy recipient of the Student Bursary award, eh!

  3. Mary B June 4, 2012 at 11:33 am #

    My opinion is simple – if the target, is as we presume it to be – young males, already hyped up on testosterone ( which is where the need for speed and recklessness is likely to stem) would they most likely “hear/see” the message if it was coming from (the head of) a gorgeous woman or (the head of) a parent/politician/cop or even a teenage boy…no matter how good looking?

    • Doug Brown June 4, 2012 at 11:37 am #

      Your opinion makes perfect sense to me MB. No doubt this was the underlying sell from the agency to the client. The interesting lesson – which all ad people have had to learn the hard way – is that just because you nailed your target market with your execution doesn’t mean it’s invisible to everyone else. Inevitably the complaints come from other quarters.

  4. msgracecampbell June 9, 2012 at 9:22 am #

    It is great to read the “advertising perspective” on this piece, but it is hard for me to get past the first comment regarding power as a static, consistent force. I strongly disagree with the statement that power is power.
    In the case of this ad, the power the woman is expressing is clearly sexual, and with the presence of sexuality I have no issue. What I take issue with is the blatant portrayal of a woman’s sexual power as that of a “gatekeeper” to or “civilizer” of men’s apparently uncontrollable sexual aggression. For me this ad is stale. If the creators were trying to be fresh, then they failed. There is nothing fresh about men being referred to as the drivers of sexual encounters and there is certainly nothing fresh about women being referred to as the ones who like to slow things down.
    I agree that Bridget has power. But since it is power that emerges from the assumption that men must be tamed and women are the ones to do it, then it is a power I want no part of.
    Relational power is not something that simply is, but something that emerges from the dynamics between characters. It is always important to ask what those dynamics are and why they exist. To say that power is all the same diminishes the complexity of both the situation, and the characters within it.

  5. Doug Brown June 9, 2012 at 11:54 am #

    Hey Grace…great to hear from you. I have to admit that the subtext you see is going right by me. I’m honestly not getting where “power as a static, consistent force” comes out of the comments, or how the ads suggest men have uncontrollable sexual aggression that requires a gatekeeper to keep it all civil! I think Bryan’s comment about finding an appealing and palatable spokesperson – with a few sexual innuendos/puns thrown in – is as much subtext as the creative brings to the table. But that’s the beauty of public discourse…it opens your eyes and mind to other perspectives. Thanks for yours!

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