A view from Zoe Harris

Harvey Nichols' Obama campaign says a lot about the ad industry - and it's not good

Harvey Nichols' Obama ad has opened a can of worms, writes Zoe Harris, so why isn't it getting more coverage?

Harvey Nichols’ advertising has often set out to shock, grabbing attention, notoriety and talkability. From the incontinent woman to the store thieves, their ads are jam packed with personality.

They’re brave, bold and always interesting. The most recent campaign has followed that trend  taking great men past and present, singing their praises and dissing their clothes. 

I wouldn’t be surprised if you haven’t come across this campaign – only a couple in the office here have. And it’s not that the media spend is less, but that trade and social coverage, which normally ignites Harvey Nichols campaigns hasn’t been as visible in comparison to some of its other campaigns.

There isn’t much opinion to be found in the industry press about these ads. And the Twitterati comments have focussed on the inappropriateness of these great men having their wardrobes called into question.

Business Insider even used the term "trolled" to describe the campaign (to zero response in their comment section). Which is all very disappointing, for at last we have an ad campaign that should be celebrated by all of us who long for advertising and media to stop with the male/female clichés.

This campaign idea brilliantly taps into a rising issue, turning the tables on the seemingly acceptable stereotypical coverage of talented and successful women, scrutinising what they wear rather than what they achieve. 

Because these fabulously playful executions clearly make the point of just how ridiculous it is to define, comment or care what incredibly successful and brilliant men have in their wardrobes. And if that’s ridiculous for men then surely, it can be inferred, it is equally bizarre to accept similar coverage about women?

This campaign idea brilliantly taps into a rising issue, turning the tables on the seemingly acceptable stereotypical coverage of talented and successful women.

In the past week alone, there has been much comment and discussion about Sheryl Sandburg’s shoes (Huffington Post, 400+ comments), and Hilary Clinton’s suits (Guardian Online, 126 comments and counting).

And while these are from a "should it really matter?" stance, there was the recent spread in the Daily Mail comparing the cleavage of female politicians, derisive comments on the red carpet outfits of talent such as Adele, and constant calls for Mary Beard to, for goodness sake, put on some make-up and get a good haircut. 

So congratulations to Harvey Nichols for opening a can of worms on Obama's dad jeans, Boris's bad hair do and Einstein's dodgy sandals.

But my question is this. Why aren’t there more opinion pieces and comments from our industry praising this campaign as one of the few that challenge the stereotypes and redress the balance? Why are there so few (in-fact zero) comments on the ads on the media coverage that I have seen?

Surely, while we need to address the career issues for women in our industry, we also have a responsibility to speak up about the portrayal of stereotypes by our industry?

I for one take my hat off to Harvey Nics, not only for their brave and bold ads that fly in the face of the bland, but for making a noise with purpose.

By Zoe Harris, group marketing director, Trinity Mirror