An ad industry campaign urging advertising types to pledge they won’t work on any “no” campaign on the gay marriage survey has been met with enthusiastic support from around 250 of Australia’s ad creatives and marketers. But if you thought it was odd for an industry that sells everything from fast food to online gambling to rule in or out working on one very specific topic of public controversy, well, you’re not alone.
The whole thing has proved something of a boon to Tony Abbott and others who paint the vote as a referendum on free speech, as if ad creatives were B-grade lawyers in the court of public opinion. That’s doing the industry too much credit, we thought, but while they may disagree with this reasoning (and much else uttered by Abbott – everyone in advertising seems in favour of gay marriage), several ad types this column spoke to did view the whole thing in a rather cynical light.
The “say no to no” campaign had of Sunday received pledges from staff at Cummins & Partners, The Royals, Clemenger BBDO, Ogilvy, Leo Burnett, BWM Dentsu, OMD, Town Square, M&C Saatchi, Y&R, UM, The Monkeys, and McCann.
It’s being spearheaded by The Royals’ Nick Commins, who told Rear Window that the harm caused by the “no” campaign was what made this different to other causes. “
“The difference is the kind of messaging that political campaigns can often produce,” he said. “The ‘no’ campaign is likely to be questioning people’s lifestyle or inferring that they are lesser Australians than the rest of us. For me that’s a form of bullying.
“People will feel attacked, vulnerable, anxious and depressed because of these messages questioning their way of life. For me, it’s a 10 [out of 10] on the bullying scale.”
It’s not an argument everyone buys into. Nic Halley, the founder of digital agency Mindbox said the whole thing was “just rank hypocrisy”.
“Nick Commins, he’s put a lot of work in over the years for this cause. He’s not just jumping on now.” Halley said. “But I look at some of the others signing this and think, like, really? … Some of the same people talking about this are working for agencies running gambling accounts … Gambling destroys families.”
And anyway, it’s not like the “no” lobby on the gay marriage survey is cashed up. “The funds these individual ‘no vote’ groups, like [Australian Christian Lobby head] Lyle Shelton and the other flat-earthers come up with, are minuscule,” said Halley. “There’s no chance they’ll have enough money to go to a Saatchi or an Ogilvy – it’s just not gonna happen.
“It’s a lot easier to do this than to go up against a gambling client spending $100 million a year.”
Political campaigner Toby Ralph, a man who’s represented everything from the nuclear waste industry to tobacco companies, described the pledge as “virtue signalling”.
“It’s like a Paramatta hooker sending out a press release announcing that she won’t marry into the Royal family because it’s anachronistic. Nobody proposed.
“Principles are meaningless until they cost you a buck.”