Sunday, May 17, 2009

The banned ad on Gruen Transfer

There's not much negative you could really say about The Gruen Transfer.

As a Pom I have a natural affinity with the ABC - the only channel in Australia to have thoughtful, intelligent programmes without shouty commercials every nanosecond (an ad break just before the final credits of The Simpsons - come on!).

Particularly of note is Todd Samson, a man whose points hit the mark so often I've been known to hit the mute button and nod serenely along with the rest of the viewing audience. Oh, what an advertising brain exists therein!

Anyway, every week The Gruen Transfer asks two creative agencies to 'sell the unsellable'. This week's challenge was to end 'shape discrimination' - i.e. to put an end to negative attitudes toward fat people. Todd once again hit the money with his assessment of The Foundry's entry - one that was deemed unsuitable for broadcast by the ABC.

Unless you're the type that would vote for Bush and thinks fossils were put in the ground to test us, I'd advise you have a look and tell me what you think.

Yes, it's a hard-hitting ad. Yes it has a certain impact. Yes, it will cut through the shouty man ads and the singing and dancing sales people on the shop floor. But is it clever, is it insightful - and, most importantly, will it create a shift in attitudes to fat people? The answer is no.

Many agencies take a lighthearted attitude to The Gruen Transfer's pitch challenge - instead of focusing on a solution, they create a funny and creative advertisement that is designed to entertain rather than work. But The Foundry took the challenge seriously and fell short. Their idea was to bring 'fatism' on a level with 'facism' - bringing it up to a level that tried to make it as unpalatable as racisim and homophobia.
The thing is, if you try to do this, when the overwhelming zeitgeist is: "it's ok to laugh at fat people", then all you are doing is raising a debate - not setting new terms for the debate.

Imagine if you did the exact same ad in the 1950s. The same concept - except the end result was to bring about an end to racism. In this scenario, all the ad would do is reinforce the attitudes of the bigots - there's no discernable reason for a bigot to decide that his/her view on racism is categorically wrong. The bigot would look at society, media and 'the things people say' to judge that yes, in the 1950s, racism is socially acceptable.

In 50 years' time, we may look back at our attitudes to shape, and see how horrid and nasty and ignorant we were - but you can't change an attitude just by pointing it out. And this is where the ad fails.
(By the way, if you want to know my favourite 'fat joke', it's this:)
An advertising agency boss (AAB) is in a pub. When a fat woman walks in, the AAB starts to laugh.
"You shouldn't laugh at me," says the fat woman. "You're fatist".
"Oh no," cries AAB. "I think you'll find you're fattest."

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