Political correctness is a curse

Nokia has a new billboard that ain't right. See if you can spot the fatal flaw....

Nokia has a new billboard that ain’t right. See if you can spot the fatal flaw.

It is selling – as shown by the small words in the corner – LONG BATTERY LIFE. And to do so, its stopper headline is "HEY, IT’S GRANDPA. GOT A SECOND?"

Class, what is wrong with this picture? Correct. The billboard is using the wrong gender. (Years ago, we would have said "the wrong sex", but that is, of course, a dirty word.)

The implication of the ad is that you will need a powerful battery because Grandpa is going to talk your ear off. However, this is not true. Grandpa does not talk your ear off. Grandpa sits quietly over there watching Bowling for Dollars. It is GrandMA who talks your ear off.

I will bet most of my carefully accumulated fortune that the Nokia board came out of the Creative Department saying "Grandma". And I will further bet that 42 seconds later, somebody wagged a finger at it and said, "No no no nononono. Talkative elderly women is a stereotype. Lest we get a nasty letter from the League of Loquacious Ladies, make it Grandpa. He won’t bitch."

God damn, political correctness is a curse. It either creates excess timidity, or it runs over to the other side and creates Howard Sterns, who flaunt their lack of political correctness along with their lack of wit, taste, and verbal "off" switch.

As in so many areas, there ought to be a middle ground. I may get myself in trouble here, but I submit that stereotypes abut human groups get to be stereotypes because they start with an element of truth. (Ask my liver if my friends named Thomas Rooney and Brian O’Leary like to drink.) But you’d better be very, very careful if you want to find humour in one.

Years back, there was a truly breakthrough campaign in the U.S. beer business. It was lusty, it was irreverent, it was macho, it was funny. It centred around retired jocks in bar scenes, arguing about whether they drank Miller Lite because "it tastes great" or because "it’s less filling."

The campaign worked because it captured the way guys talk in bars – with no censor listening. And then it fell upon political correctness.

They produced a commercial featuring ex-hockey player Pete Stankowski. The set-up was, Pete was going to tell a Polish joke. And the whole bar – and the whole TV audience – did that very human approach-avoidance thing, where on the one hand you’re afraid it’s going to be tasteless, and on the other, you can’t wait to hear it. So Stankowski proceeded to tell a joke. In Polish. It was a surprise, and the stunned, let-down reaction of the crowd made it very funny.

Within two weeks, the spot was off the air. Yes, there had been complaints, from the Polish Don’t-Do-That Society, or some such. Never mind that the commercial made the Polish guy the hero, nor that it got us to maybe-for-a-moment examine our attitudes about Polish jokes. Nope. Bad commercial. Bad, bad commercial. Go to your room.

The Miller Lite campaign sort of shriveled up and died a while after that. Maybe its time had come, but maybe also it got too careful. It had always been on the edge, at least for its era, and when it started to overthink itself, it lost its vitality.

That would be the end of the story, and it would be unhappy enough, if it weren’t for this unfortunate fact. The Miller Lite campaign is back.

It is back in the same setting – the bar scene – and it has the same creative strategy, taste versus fillingness. However, it has been carefully updated for our modern era.

Instead of testosterous old jocks, it has wise-ass wannabes like Norm MacDonald, playing against supermodels. Immediately, all surprise is gone. Because once you set up the situation that way, there is only one politically correct way you can play it. The woman has to win.

So we sit through a few tired putdowns, then the gorgeous supermodel displays greater sports knowledge than the horny hapless couch potato, then, well, I’m not sure I’ve ever got to the end, I’ve had to check another channel.

Somebody has said, political correctness is fascism masquerading as liberalism. I like that…and it’s boring besides. Anybody want to argue with me? Call me a sexist pig? Send me some nice p.c. examples? I think I’ll stay with this subject awhile.

John Burghardt’s checkered resumé includes the presidency of a national agency, several films for the Shah’s government in Iran, collaboration with Jim Henson to create the Cookie Monster, and a Cannes Gold Lion. The letterhead of his thriving business now reads "STRATEGIC PLANNING • CREATIVE THINKING". He can be reached by phone at (416) 693-5072, by fax at (416) 693-5100 or by e-mail at burgwarp@aol.com

From Karen Howe’s dining table: Creativity, COVID and Cannes

ICYMI, The Township's founder gathers the best of the best campaigns and trends so far.

Cannes Base Camp

By Karen Howe

I’m attending Cannes from the glory of my dining room table. There’s not a palm tree in sight, yet inspiration and intel are present in abundance.

Cannes Lions is a global cultural pulse check. The social course correction in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and BLM has delivered far greater diversity in the judging panels as well as the work. And we are all better for it.

I’m proud to say that creativity defeated COVID, which speaks to its power. Great work and big ideas flourished, despite unimaginable odds.

The work from the past two years spans a vast emotional range. From the profundity of Dove’s “Courage is Beautiful” to the hyper exuberance of Burberry’s “Festive,” they are opposite ends of the spectrum, but each answered a need in us.

Take note, the ascendency of gaming cannot be understated. Smart brands have embraced the channel. It makes sense, because gamers participate to meet others around the world, not just to play. And they represent a huge and powerful community. That’s why QSR Wendy’s gamified their iconic gal in RPG’s Feast of Legends.

Burger King sponsored the unknown Stevenage Football Club, transforming the team into online heroes and vaulting BK into the fray at the same time. Once again, the brand embedded itself in culture.

The birth of gaming tourism arrived when Xbox snuggled up to travel guides and created a brilliant baby: a travel guide for gaming worlds. It, too, embedded itself in culture.

From the standpoint of social good, Reporter Without Borders showed how it worked with Mindcraft for its “Uncensored Library” to bypass press censorship, with Minecraft providing a loophole to a space where young people could be educated. It provided youth with a powerful tool to fight oppression: truth.

COVID changed us in unexpected ways. We learned how to pay attention again and there was a notable lack of 30-second commercials. Instead, longer format content thrived. Apple’s WFH was seven minutes long. Entertainment reigned king, so we find ourselves returning to our advertising roots.

Seeing competitive brands form partnerships was one of this year’s other great surprises. The brilliantly simple “Beer Cap Project” by Aguila to reduce binge-drinking saw the brand reach out to competitive beers to join in. Aguila put incentivizing (keyword: free) reminders to drink water, eat food and get home safely on its bottle caps from all sorts of fast food chains, ride-share co’s and H2O brands.

On a personal level, I’m so proud of Canada again this year. Given that it was two years of work from all over the world being judged, even making the Cannes shortlist was an accomplishment. Canada is herding in the Lions in tremendous numbers – and it’s not even over. Fingers are crossed.

KAREN-HOWE-PIC-higher-rez-300x263Karen Howe is a Canadian Cannes Advisory Board Member and founder of The Township Group