The Conversation

Red mist can cloud creativity

But the constant and unmerited attacks on advertising at least shows that it's culturally resonant

By jeremy lee

Tesco's Christmas ad, 'This Christmas, Nothing is Stopping Us', by BBH, has become the most complained ad of the year for having the temerity of showing a fully vaccinated Santa, but should we really care? When Gillian McKeith - the famous coprophile and vehement anti-vaxxer who claims that a 'healthy diet' can provide immunity - claimed that the spot encouraged discrimination and implored her Twitter followers to #BoycottTesco (how predictable), then it all just followed a route for which many people in advertising have become wearily familiar.

Addressing the concerns and the frothing bile of the Twitter mobs, wherever their place on society's loony fringes, was once a strategy but there's precious little evidence that it pays off in the long-term. John Lewis, for example, has found itself criticised by both extremes of the race debate - first, for featuring a black family in its Christmas 'Unexpected Guest' campaign; and then, by the other side, for having an alien who is depicted as white and therefore representative of a 'higher life form'. In short, there doesn't seem to be a way that any brand or agency can satisfy everyone, given the number of people actively looking for offence.

It's depressing, of course, but maybe some succour can be provided by the fact that advertising remains so firmly in the spotlight of public opinion (and especially so at Christmas) - right at the heart of culture and therefore right where the culture wars are being fought (however tedious these battles may be). For anyone doubting advertising's relevance, the answer is right there.

But for creatives and advocates of the power of creativity to challenge preconceived ideas, it does show advertising's vulnerability to the mob that will do little to encourage the 'bravery' of new ideas that everyone - not least advertisers - are looking for.

Maybe that's why many brands are increasingly turning to brand mascots to be their spokesperson - even the most highly-attuned offence merchant would surely struggle to find a hate crime therein? What's more brand mascots have been shown to prompt faster System 1 thinking - the brain's automatic, intuitive processing - than other advertising techniques (see this week's feature for more).

Brand mascots certainly deserve their place in a marketer's armoury, but when they are too scared to use much else for fear of the outrage mob then that armoury looks a little diminished.


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