“I am sick to death of cleverness. Everybody is clever nowadays. You can’t go anywhere without meeting clever people. The thing has become an absolute public nuisance. I wish to goodness we had a few fools left.”
So said John ‘Jack’ Worthing in Oscar Wilde’s delightful The Importance of Being Earnest. Indeed it’s an understandable lament in this age of smartphones, smartbombs and smartypants. However dear reader, I can put your mind to rest on this point: there is at least one fool left in the world, and you are the lucky recipient of his words. Allow me to explain.
This morning, I was angry. Quite cross as they say in England. Incandescent with righteous fury I was, despite my personal commitment to avoid such apoplectic tirades. The source of my ungovernable outrage is easy to relate, and when you see what it was that raised my blood pressure, you will better understand why I make the undeniable claim that I was a fool. An apoplectic ass if you will.
The item to which I took such vitriolic umbrage was a headline about a commercial. Let me say that again to better illustrate my point. A headline about a commercial. As you can see, “fool” may not be a sufficient descriptor.
The headline in question read as follows: John St.’s Latest Merciless Satire Just Destroys the Dove Style of Marketing to Women.
I should break down the headline here to explain why such a seemingly innocuous collection of lexemes would cause such choleric (if misguided) vexation from me:
John St.: John St. is a Toronto advertising agency whose work I have admired for some time. Indeed, I’ve often considered reaching out to work with them.
Satire: For many years I’ve maintained that what most people call satire is really just sarcasm, because most of the material in question lacks the intellectual thrust and subtlety of true satirical work. I’ve experienced it so often that I usually (and probably unfairly) assume the worst when I see the moniker used to describe a piece of work.
That leaves us with the true source of my irritation. The words “…destroys the Dove Style of marketing to Women.” Putting aside the very North American obsession for using intense words like destroy and kill and smash to describe just about everything – who writes these things, the Hulk? – this final section was, for me, the straw that beat the dead horse around the bush.
In the last couple of years, we’ve seen some exceptionally powerful advertising campaigns appear featuring empowering messages directed toward women and young girls – the Always Like a Girl campaign is an excellent example. When I saw that an agency I admired was apparently attacking this concept with “satire” I balked. The last thing we needed was to satirize marketing that was actually trying to empower women. Hadn’t we done enough damage already on that score? This felt very much like mis-targeting, and the idea made my blood boil.
At this point, my long suffering readers, the more perspicacious among you will have noticed that I’ve been talking about the headline, and I have not mentioned reading the actual article itself. That’s be cause I hadn’t. Read the article that is. No context, just apoplectic outrage directed at a beknighted headline.
As I said at the beginning of this missive, there is at least one fool left in this world, and very possibly the largest.
Anyway, when I actually took the time to read the article – and thankfully I did – the context it offered was both shocking and reassuring… as well as a little humbling. It turns out that there are some who criticize this new type of women’s advertising, sometimes called “femvertising” – the road to hell is paved in horrendous portmanteaus I swear – as preying on the insecurities of women to sell more products. This criticism has been directed primarily at Dove, hence the satirical spot from John St.
The ad itself – which is brilliant by the way – absolutely skewers the more suspect side of this type of marketing. The article by Tim Nudd of AdWeek describes the all-too-common “bandwagon” effect advertising genres face, with some brands cynically embracing woman-empowering themes with calculated messaging lacking in anything resembling authenticity or empowerment.
So what have we learned dear reader? We’ve learned that with even the most positive and empowering concepts, there will always be those who would hijack it for their own cynical ends. We’ve also learned that there are organizations like John St. who are willing to call out this type of predatory behaviour, using humour to shine a light into the darkest corners.
Finally we’ve learned that, despite protestations to the contrary, I can be just as reactionary as the next person, trading context and insight for vitriol and righteous fury. The only defence I can offer is that I’m willing to call myself out on such imbecilic nonsense. And perhaps that i am, in fact, human. (Rumours to the contrary notwithstanding.)
Epictetus once said that personal improvement required that we be content with being thought foolish and stupid. If this is true, then I am surely well on my way to greatness.