Advertising in Review: Governmental doublethink

F. Scott Fitzgerald said the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.It has often seemed to me that when governments spend...

F. Scott Fitzgerald said the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.

It has often seemed to me that when governments spend our money Going Advertising, they often persist in holding two opposed ideas, which may or may not signal first-rate thinking.

The one idea is, as long as the advertising parrots government policy, it doesn’t matter how fatuous, impractical or unproductive its message, because advertising doesn’t do anything anyway.

The opposed idea is, no matter how fatuous or impractical its message, let’s run it, because even bad advertising has the power to move mountains.

Couple this kind of doublethink with the often bizarre imperatives that drive the Ontario ndp government as it tinkers with the province’s Socialist Utopia, and you get some strange stuff comin’ atcha round where I live.

For instance, a recent primetime Ontario government television campaign enjoined married, family men to use condoms during their stop-off-on-the-way-home-from-the-office sexual couplings with other men just as breezy as you please, right after the Chicken Tonight spot.

(Hi Honey, you’re home! Now wash your hands and make us a Martini!)

I’m sitting there with my seven-year-old son, going whaaaaaat?

Gosh, Bob, we all want to give aids a miss, but how about a media plan based around some nice posters in selected, high traffic men’s public lavatories or something? No? Agenda? What agenda, Bob?

The latest Ontario effort, again, clearly aimed at Slapping Us Silly to Show Us the Error of Our Ways, is a 60-second sweatbath of ghastly images and gut-churning screams whose stated purposed is to encourage us to drive more slowly.

We’re swept up, documentary-style, with the horrific sights and sounds of a fatal collision from highway to hospital. Blood oozes. Hypodermic needles pierce morbid flesh. A mother dies. Children scream hysterically.

Everyone I’ve spoken to has admitted to physically turning away from the screen at some point during this ordeal. (Personally, I was ripping up the couch cushions to find the channel changer and surf my way to safety!)

All this deliberate brutality culminates with a final surprise emotional ambush worthy of the editor of Fatal Attraction.

Just as they cut to the supers, after 55 seconds of studied Revulsion, and you think it’s over, a young girl’s voice screams, ‘no! i want to see my mother! i want to see my mommy!’

This has the effect of doing the near-impossible in tv ad priorization, which is to overpower what the eye is seeing with what the ear is hearing.

Apparently, the supers offer a somewhat banal wrap-up, would you believe, Speeding is a dead end. Slow down and stay in control. And, in case you didn’t get that, Road Safety. It starts with you pops on, but you lost me ‘way back in the primal scream phase.

By the time you’re out of this thing, you’ve forgotten what or who killed and/or drove these folks mad. You just want to shut off the tv, pour a drink and go hug your kids. And, that’s the problem.

The press release (don’t all ad campaigns come with highly descriptive and self-justifying press releases?) states that this campaign is worth every cent of its one-point-two-million budget If it motivates even one more person to drive responsibly!

Plus, as the release continues, It’s designed to match the success of a similar commercial that ran in Australia!

Well, heck, if it saved just one Australian, um, sorry, how did that go again?

Never mind that safety experts generally admit that speed, per se, isn’t such A Big Problem. And that such advertising, like almost all public service advertising, defies the most basic measurements of ‘success.’ Does this kind of grind-their-faces-in-it advertising do anything?

And, if government is the process of deciding Who Gets What When, Who’s getting What out of advertising like this?