wars of a different kind

Someone called Veronica commented on the HBS Blog post “The War for the Soul of Advertising.”  She suggested that my interpretation of the ads in question is sexist.  (I don’t think I have the right to reproduce Veronica’s comment here.  I will have to ask you to go here to see it.  

My first reply, written last night around 11:00, was a little intemperate.

Veronica, I can’t help feeling this is a drive-by accusation. The use of this language judged by context and not by the instincts of an inquisitor is appropriate. I don’t object to showing someone as a “competent leader of outdoor expedition” but I wouldn’t have thought it wouldn’t take much interpretive skill to see that the ad in question makes the character in question look like a complete and utter idiot. (I mean, really, is the guy behind her actually made more secure by “watch your step.”) As to your difficulty figuring out “exactly” what my argument is, I would suggest reading it again. Thanks, Grant

My second reply, written this morning, was still more intemperate.  So much for the clear light of day.

Veronica, I wanted to follow up on my original reply, my last night in haste about 11:00. As it turns out I am a fourth-generation feminist. My great-grandmother saw to that. I point this out not to argue that I am incapable of sexism. This is so deeply embedded in our culture and in our upbringings that I wouldn’t dare make this claim. I point it out to argue how seriously I take your accusation.

So let me give you a more detailed reply than the one I gave you last night. First, “brittle and shrill” is my reading of _a woman in an ad_. I am not imputing this to a real person! Second, it is the guy _in the ad_ who is “suffering” a call from his wife. Go back to the ad and you will see that _it is the ad_ that makes this guy nonchalant. And now to defend the creatives at BBDO. I believe they have made him so in order to set up the embarrassment that is to follow. I am not imputing his indifference, the ad is. And the ad is not doing it out of sexism, it is setting up the story to follow.

Having accused me of sexism, you carry on to diminish the men in the ads…as middle school boys and people with the memory of a goldfish. This is so shockingly hypocritical as to test belief. You can’t accuse me of sexism and then engage in it.

Then to leap to the conclusion that I “don’t relate to ads with strong women in them” This is, well, a leap, isn’t it? Pray have a look at my blog, specifically a post called Lighting It Up at the Coca-Cola Company, February 17, 2006. This post lauds Mary Minnick then the CMO of the Coca-Cola Company.

[I begin with this quote from Hein and Sampey] “The strategy for the global Coke campaign is to make choosing Coke a purposeful act,” said Mary Minnick, the head of marketing strategy and innovation. “We don’t just want to be entertaining or be different, we want to be more relevant. We want to build a relationship with consumers, not hold a mirror up to them.” (from Hein, Kenneth, with Kathy Sampey. 2006. Pouring It On: Coke Unveils New Tagline, Products, Philosophy. Brandweek. December 08, 2005

[the post continues] This is an interesting model that marketers may with to conjure with. In the meantime, we may admire the recent Diet Coke ad (“Haircut”) that seems to me to capture and perhaps illuminate Minnick’s philosophy.

A young woman enters a very old fashioned barbershop. She emerges triumphant. The risk has paid off. She went into the shop a great beauty. She emerges a great beauty who has claimed her beauty with an act of daring and imagination. [end of post passage]

I believe this establishes that I admire strong women in ads, and as makers of ads.

Best, Grant

I pressed on to suggest that Veronica seemed to me to be practicing the blogging equivalent of “vexatious litigation” (as Wikipedia defines it: “legal action which is brought regardless of its merits, solely to harass…”) but by that time I was feeling a little less irritable.  

Last note:

I’m not sure exactly why I sharing this with you, to be honest.  Your comments, please.

9 thoughts on “wars of a different kind”

  1. Hi Grant,

    By chance, this post is the first thing I read authored by you.

    Anyway, it seems to me you shared this because you think Veronica was being unfair and you cared enough about your readers’ comments to write a length reply in this case.

    Regards,
    Kempton
    Calgary, Canada

    P.S. As it happens, this article is the first thing I clicked after discovering your Twitter id at your Banff World Media Festival speaker’s bio. I look forward to possibly meeting you at Banff in June and checking out a few more articles and links here.

  2. grant
    thanks for posting. very much enjoyed the observation (as I always do) that inspired your post and which seems to be the target you always aim at : a sense of cultural truth in the marketplace.
    As for the comments, it’s hard to know what to say. That is a serious accusation and one that would upset me deeply – which is why, I assume, you shared it; to gauge your own sense of upset against those of your readers. (That’s what I would do.)
    As a long time reader and fan, I’ve been inspired by your work and your tireless creative courage. I think you’ve handled yourself beautifully. So. Keep writing. Peter

  3. One school of thought says “Don’t feed the trolls.” The culture war over birth certificates is an interesting example of that; I believe there’s substantial research that says that even raising the question (of citizenship or say of sexist proclivities) has the power to influence. Responding to the question doesn’t seem to have the expected power to dissuade and in some caes may only further convince.

    How these sort of mass media cultural narratives trickle down to someone with an everyday amount of celebrity (such as you!) is an interesting question. “Don’t feed the trolls” is less grounded in social science and opinion research and just draws from what our parents may have taught us – “it only encourages them.”

    [I like to defend myself but sometimes I hold my tongue/fingers and just let a jerk be a jerk]

    1. Steve, thanks, this is sage advice, if this had been more “trolly” it would have been easier to ignore. But it is a kind of facsimile truth. And then got to me. You’re right. I should have been less quick to take umbrage. Best, Grant

  4. In this case, your sensitivity to the charge and the way you addressed it shows both a) that you actually are a feminist and b) that you are willing to defend yourself in a dignified way (that you called intemperate but I would call politely Canadian). You showed admirable restraint in not counterattacking–the troll certainly left plenty of openings–and I think that this restraint actually is a good example of not feeding the troll. They thrive on passion and antagonism.

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