(d) All of the above?
The conversation started last Saturday in a local coffee bar when its owner showed us the clip online. In the ad a pouch of Qiaobi cleaning liquid is applied to a black man who is then shoved into a washing machine by what looks like his smiling girlfriend.
After a few cycles she opens the door and hey presto, a smiling Asian man climbs out, winking at viewers, as the slogan ‘Change begins with Qiaobi’ flashes up on the screen.
What puzzled us was why it should be a man of a different race who appeared, but we were missing the point. Or maybe more than just the one. Whereas internationally it’s raised a bit of a stink, in China – where advertising tends to be a bit more ‘in your face’, and where despite its 56 ethnic minorities there is a very monocultural feel – it raised scarcely an eyebrow.
Fast forward 24 hours and the UK press has a field day, only now a new element enters the mix: the Operation Black Vote poster, aimed at encouraging ethnic minorities to vote in the UK referendum. It consists of a photograph of two people on a seesaw, one a sari-clad Indian woman, the other what looks like a skinhead from the 70s, complete with Dr Martens, jeans and braces.
To some it depicted the anti-racist struggle, to others a negative message towards black, Asian or even white people. Yet these rather dated figures prompted an immediate reaction, stirring UKIP’s Nigel Farrage to shout “disgusting” and the new London Mayor Sadiq Khan to claim it “reinforced stereotypes”.
To me, both ads just denigrate the intelligence of people who come into contact with them – and they don’t say much about the capabilities, creativity or astuteness of their creators. Time was, an advertiser would rely on subtlety and humour to get their message across rather than prod people with the promotional equivalent of a Taser.
For now, though, the bludgeoning approach holds sway. The rationale, it appears to me, is that advertisers – whether political or consumer goods – do not trust their audience to warm to their message and so rely on shock treatment or come up with an ad that is so anodyne that people don’t remember it seconds after seeing it.
Or there again, maybe it’s partly due to humour being frowned upon as a communication tool, or a lack of funny creatives. If the latter, then I have some sympathy for, albeit on a slightly different tangent, I have always struggled to find good diarists and cartoonists for the publications I have been involved with.
Humour is the hardest thing to do well in print, cartoons or ads. When auditioning I always warn those who apply not to feel offended if they don’t get the gig. Because humorists are born, not trained, and in the past 30 years I have only come across one good cartoonist (who now works on a national paper), and two diarists who have met the grade.
As I write I have been guffawing at what is the new diarist’s first contribution to my magazine. It combines fantasy, reality, bite and vision, and it doesn’t talk down to the reader. Shame that more ads don’t do the same.