Imagine a world where advertising is not just about the choices we
make as consumers, but about those we have to make as citizens.
Unfortunately, for all the misplaced hope engendered by ceasefires and
negotiations, the people of Northern Ireland still don’t have to imagine
such a world.
McCann-Erickson Belfast has had the good fortune to work for the
Northern Ireland Office at one of the brightest moments in that
country’s troubled history - the historic ceasefire achieved in 1995.
Then the agency screened a heart-warming story of childhood friendships,
ending with the words: ’Wouldn’t it be great if it was like this all the
But, two years on, a palpable sense of desperation has crept into the
proposed new work. The Northern Ireland Office had decided to reprise
the hard-hitting anti-terrorist campaign of 1993 which is currently
playing as part of a heavyweight advertising push.
But it is the proposed new work, due to break later in the year if the
go-ahead is given this week, that has caused the latest controversy. One
of the seven executions the agency has prepared, called ’where?’, uses
archive footage of the Kristallnacht purge on Jews living in Nazi
Germany, intercut with news pictures of unrest in Ulster. But
Kristallnacht involved the enforced removal of 30,000 men to
concentration camps and the destruction of shops and synagogues -
commentators felt it inappropriate to make a connection between the
Holocaust and sectarian violence. The critics’ indignation was fanned by
remarks made by the Northern Ireland Secretary, Sir Patrick Mayhew, that
the comparison was valid.
The controversy could mean the ad is never screened.But the agency is
still faced with the problem of having to create images and words strong
enough to make a difference in a world where violence is used to sell
such things as computer games. At least McCanns knows the ads will be as
neutral as possible - they will be analysed by the team of psychologists
employed by the agency. At least they are trying to do the right thing
and make a difference.