COMMENT: What happened to our famous ironic sense of humour?

By DOMINIC MILLS, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 18 December 1998 12:00AM

Standard practice at this time of year demands that columnists devote their final effort to a pious peace-and-goodwill offering. Sod that. I’m in the mood for a whinge and what I want to whinge about is irony or, to be more precise, Britain’s loss of the so-called ’I word’.

Standard practice at this time of year demands that columnists

devote their final effort to a pious peace-and-goodwill offering. Sod

that. I’m in the mood for a whinge and what I want to whinge about is

irony or, to be more precise, Britain’s loss of the so-called ’I

word’.



It used to be said that we British compensated for our slide down the

league table of national achievements (losing to Sri Lanka at cricket,

never winning the Eurovision Song Contest etc) with a finely honed sense

of irony. No matter that it may have been a defence mechanism, there was

much to be said for this theory. The US, Japan and Germany dominated the

global economy but - pah! - they couldn’t do irony like we could.



Today, alas, we don’t even seem to be good at that. The evidence - which

is, of course, unimpeachable - is based entirely on the sudden and

dramatic increase in the number of ads that, apparently, offend the

great British public. Let’s just remember some of them: Ikea’s

’downsizer’, said to be offensive to the unemployed; its ’English’

series, said to be both offensive and racist; Audi’s Duracell bunny,

offensive to Duracell, bunny lovers and bunnies themselves; Kevin the

Levi’s hamster, offensive to hamsters; TBWA’s Martin Skinner Euro ad,

which encourages office bullying and is probably offensive to small

businessmen too; and Ford’s Full Monty parody, said to be racist because

it didn’t feature a black character when the movie did. I think you get

the point - these days you can’t take the risk with irony in case it

offends someone.



One man’s irony is another’s offence but, notwithstanding the possible

argument that advertising is out of tune with the national mood, it

seems to me that as a nation we’ve lost our collective sense of

irony.



There may be a number of reasons for this. Perhaps the national irony

quotient (NIQ) is inversely related to the British sense of self-esteem

(BSE). Blair’s Britain believes in itself and, therefore, takes itself

more seriously. Maybe we just complain more, but my favourite is that

this loss of irony reflects the return of the Nanny State. Everybody

seeks to unload their particular guilt, angst or blame on to something

else - and advertisers are the easiest of targets. This, of course, is

bad news for advertising because most clients will run a mile to avoid

the risks and the profile that result.



Still, one of the paradoxes of this is that, in theory, the modern media

landscape should improve targeting and therefore reduce an ad’s

propensity to offend.



So why are so many ads offending so many consumers? Well, at the risk of

offending those sensitive souls in the media planning/buying fraternity,

it’s clearly all their fault for such poor targeting.



Have your say in CampaignLive’s forum on channel 4 at

www.campaignlive.com



This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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