By Poppy Cumming-Spain
Get some perspective
I spent this weekend in Bristol. I’ve never been before. It was so great to get out of the London bubble and explore something new. The architecture was beautiful, and I had a lot of fun. I met new people who were very different to me. They weren’t from London, neither did they have any desire to live there. Perhaps visit, but not for long. They preferred how relaxed Bristol felt, that it wasn’t busy or big. As a Londoner and a lover of our capital, it boggles my mind when people don’t love it too. For me, there’s nowhere better. But it was interesting to get inside their heads and try and see things from their perspective. As I drove from London to Bristol, I saw loads of roadside ads. Being a typical ad geek, I was on the lookout for ads as we walked around the city and wondered how differently people from Bristol might take them compared to me.
There’s always a different perspective, and you can’t write ads for everyone (although we’ll all try and clients will ask us to). Nothing proved this more than a debate a few of us had in school about an ad in the Marsh & Parsons campaign. One of the posters depicted an old gentleman and a young woman with the line, ‘A charming period property with a modern extension.’ It was pulled after people complained about it. And Joe posted into the rest of John on slack to ask us if it was offensive. The problem is, the rest of the ads in this campaign were great. Funny, insightful and not offensive. I’m surprised that ad made it into the campaign. They had so many other executions, so they didn’t need to include that ad. But they did.
My answer was yes. It was undeniable offensive. While it might have reflected a truth about a small selection of couples in the world, it was derogatory to women. And, with a history where women were portrayed as secondary to their male counterparts, always behind a strong man, a side portion, a trophy or an ‘extension,’ it’s hardly surprising that this ad wouldn’t go down well. To my surprise, some disagreed with me. They thought it was fine. It was accurate. And if the situation had been reversed, it wouldn’t have offended men so why should it offend women.
We had to agree to disagree in the end. But it worried me. It seemed to me that some people couldn’t see the ads through the eyes of other people which we need to do to create great ads. Perhaps I was blinded by my perspective in this case too? It’s definitely hard to remember that people messages from brands differently than those from people. Meg and I have been working on a poker campaign for women, riffing off the insight that 100% of women, i.e., all of us, are great at faking. We found this hilarious and had a lot of fun bouncing ideas off each other, but found ourselves in a territory which felt uncomfortably near to prostitution (which felt doubly uncomfortable as we were already working on a gambling campaign). All the women we spoke to about the campaign thought the idea was hilarious. But would they have felt the same if they’d seen it on a poster rather than told by their peers? And it made the men we spoke to uncomfortable. It wasn’t aimed at them, but does that mean we should disregard their feelings completely? I can safely say that this campaign won’t make it into our final book, but it gave us some great learnings. There’s a lot to think about when you’re making advertising campaigns. And the thinking doesn’t stop when you’ve created what you think is a great campaign. Then you’ve just tested it on yourself. Of course, you then need to test it on your audience. But you also need to climb into the skin of the other people that will come into contact with your campaign and look at it from their perspective too.