Editorial

Not a fine lineIn the last issue of Strategy, one of Canada's leading creative directors, Brian Harrod of ad agency Harrod and Mirlin, observed that maybe we Canadians are not producing our share of great advertising creative because of who we...

Not a fine line

In the last issue of Strategy, one of Canada’s leading creative directors, Brian Harrod of ad agency Harrod and Mirlin, observed that maybe we Canadians are not producing our share of great advertising creative because of who we are.

‘The problem probably starts with our own Canadian psyche,’ said Harrod, in an interview that followed up on Canada’s recent poor showing at the Cannes International Advertising Festival. Canada failed to win even one of 117 trophies that were awarded at the prestigious festival. Countries such as New Zealand, Belgium, Norway, Argentina and Switzerland placed far more finalists than Canada.

‘We are conservative people,’ said Harrod. ‘We’re good bankers, good insurance people, we’re very politeÉ. We don’t like to cause controversy, and good creative is always going to be controversial. We don’t want to offend anybody, and good creative is going to offend some people. We can’t be all things to all people because that’s when it starts getting dull.’

Had Harrod needed a concrete example to prove his point, he would not have had to go any further than the Toronto Transit Commission’s recent decision to kill a busboard advertisement promoting the opening of the annual Canadian National Exhibition.

There were two boards involved, appearing to the left and right of side-entrance bus doors. The offending board read: ‘Just a reminder to call in sick August 18th. Free admission opening day courtesy of Beckers and Coca-Cola.’

At least one member of Metro Toronto City Council and several callers to the ttc viewed this playful poster as ‘irresponsible.’ Presumably they read the headline literally and believed the cne was attempting to exhort otherwise diligent Torontonians to lie to their bosses and abandon the workplace.

Some issues, such as the one raised three years ago involving a poster promoting Molson Breweries’ Canadian brand that showed a young woman in a halter top and the provocative headline ‘the rare long-haired fox’ are truly troubling. The question of when advertising goes beyond the limits of public acceptability, especially as it pertains to exploitation of the sexes, is complex. In this case, the ttc’s concern over the Molson poster, and the commission’s subsequent decision to withdraw it from public view, is understandable.

An amusing headline that draws attention to a mid-week event does not stray even close to those same boundaries of good taste or public offence. Even in these extraordinarily careful times, it is hard to imagine that the boundaries have become as narrow as the ttc seems to think.

One of the justifications for pulling the ad, according to cne director of marketing David Marskell, is that it could have become a big issue. People might have started talking about the poster and thus overshadow the excitement of the fair.

In other words, there might have been controversy.