Editorial

The bare issueSome years ago the useful if unwieldy expression 'extra-territoriality' was making the news. At that time the subject under discussion was the application of u.s. laws in Canada. The American government wanted to be sure u.s. subsidiaries in this...

The bare issue

Some years ago the useful if unwieldy expression ‘extra-territoriality’ was making the news. At that time the subject under discussion was the application of u.s. laws in Canada. The American government wanted to be sure u.s. subsidiaries in this country were not contravening its trade embargo on Cuba. The Americans were told firmly but politely by the federal government that in Canada Ottawa would decide who traded with whom.

Now, the issue has come up again, only this time it is magazine advertising that is the point of contention.

Specifically, the u.s.-based publisher and managing editor of Time-Warner’s Canadian version of Sports Illustrated rejected an advertisement from adidas (Canada) that featured a nearly nude soccer team. The men’s genitals were not exposed, although their legs and torsos were. Such displays of male – and female – flesh are commonplace in most Canadian towns and cities in magazines, on tv, on billboards and elsewhere.

So why the refusal to run the ad? Clearly Sports Illustrated does not have a problem with the sight of dozens of barely clothed young women adorning its swimsuit issue. Double standard?

Obviously, the ad rejection is a case of extra-territoriality again, only this time it is ethics not politics. Unfortunately the two men who declined the adidas advertisement were not available at press-time to explain how they arrived at their decision, but other senior executives who work with them were and their excuses for their colleagues’ action are found wanting.

Sports Illustrated managers in New York know by now that even though the magazine is a decent product that a good many Canadians want to read, their decision to publish six ‘Canadian’ editions has roused the ire of a good many groups – some of them with a clear self-interest – and has led to the formation of a federal task force to examine the Canadian magazine industry.

Surely the executives of a massive international media conglomerate do not have to be reminded to listen to local advice and to let local standards prevail except in the most unusual circumstances. After all, they promised a ‘Canadian’ Sports Illustrated.

The decision to censor an advertisement considered acceptable by Canadian standards is a rather flagrant contradiction of the basic principles of global marketing (an invention of u.s.-based multinationals) which advise: think globally but act locally.

More generally, two Americans’ rejection of a Canadian advertisement for a ‘Canadian’ magazine will not cause the sky to fall or the collapse of Canada-u.s. relations. But the decision certainly is symbolic for Canadian marketing decision-making and may even be a watershed for Sports Illustrated in this country.

There is a federal election coming and there is a good chance the u.s.-friendly Tories could be replaced by the not-so-enthusiastic Liberals. The Sports Illustrated decision has popular political issue written all over it.