Comment Of The Day: “Harassing McGruff: Oh-Oh…Am I Going Crazy?”

I’m going to post the whole ad at issue again, because it is an essential reference point for context:

My almost entirely serious post about the GEICO ad showing McGruff the Crime Dog being subjected to office harassment based on his appearance and species/race prompted more and more diverse commentary than I expected, and one slam-dunk Comment of the Day, by Zanshin, who has a record of deconstructing oddball Ethics Alarms posts.

Three points:

1. I was not aware that McGruff had starred in anti-bullying videos, and I doubt that any but a tiny fraction of the intended audience for the GEICO commercial is either,

2. Kudos to Zanshin for seeing a connection to The Jehovah Paradox, which I did not. It is not often that I am told that I don’t understand my own inventions, but he makes an excellent argument. I also need to add TJP to the Ethics Alarms list of concepts and special terms, which I had neglected to do.

3. I just saw the ad again, and it still feels to me like GEICO is making light of workplace racism, bullying and harassment, and

Here is Zanshin’s Comment of the Day on the post, Harassing McGruff: Oh-Oh…Am I Going Crazy?:

Jack asked, […] am I just seeing an ethics breach that isn’t there?

My answer, You saw only the unethical part in this commercial because you didn’t have the context to ‘see’ the ethical part in it.


1. McGruff is subjected to cruel bullying and office harassment.

2. Is that an ethics breach? No, not if one understands “The Jehovah Paradox”.

3. In the commercial McGruff doesn’t break character.

4. (At the minimal) the commercial doesn’t go against the teachings of McGruff.

5. The commercial makers should have done a better job in making the teachings of McGruff more explicit.
(But maybe couldn’t given intellectual property/licensing issues?)

Let me explain.

The commercial makers have combined two cultural memes in this commercial.

1. The payoff, where (a) given that there will always be people baby-talking to their dog and (b) as long as (a) is true, you can count on GEICO saving money, [etc.]. Kind of silly reasoning but inherently nothing wrong with this payoff

2. The ‘funny part’. Just have a normal person friendly baby-talking to his dog — that’s probably not funny enough. So, bring in McGruff. But as Jack — correctly in my opinion — noted, there is a difference between Goofy and Pluto.

And I agree with him that McGruff is subjected to cruel bullying and office harassment. So, in the eye of most commenters: unethical! But the commercial=makers really know McGruff — better than most commenters on this post. They gave McGruff a behavior response on how to deal with bullying that he also teaches children in some of his episodes. And that makes this bullying of McGruff a clear example of

“The Jehovah Paradox”: when one must clearly or graphically reference something offensive in order to explain why it is offensive (or not), thereby risking being accused of the same offense that one is trying to analyze.

In this case they clearly or graphically reference something offensive in order to explain HOW to respond to bullying.

See the following episodes on YouTube where McGruff explain children how to respond to bullying.
Samantha’s Choice
When the Going Gets Scruff

His approach is “Stop, Talk & Walk”. In Samantha’s Choice, at 2:51 he start to explain what he means with “Stop, Talk & Walk”.
Stop is defined as follows: Stop listening to the bullies. Ignore them. Shrug your shoulders. Look them in the eye.
Talk: You can say anything. Make a joke. Say you don’t believe them. Tell them you got some place to be. Whatever.
Walk: Walk away.

And if you do a close reading of McGruff’s response to those bullying him, that is exactly what he does: “Stop, Talk & Walk”.

However, the commercial makers should have done a better job in making the teachings of McGruff more explicit. And more upbeat; he sure seems to walk away as a victim.
And the payoff should acknowledge the bulling and tie into that. Same with the part where the viewer is suggested to click a button.

Overall, the commercial is less unethical then it seems on first sight. But this commercial could have and should have been used more as a teaching opportunity, clarifying McGruff’s message, exploring the complex issues of bullying.

But that would have required bold and competent commercial makers with courage and imagination.

NB. Bonus points for those who can trace the origin of the last two sentences to their original source.


5 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: “Harassing McGruff: Oh-Oh…Am I Going Crazy?”

  1. Congrats on the COTD!

    I am torn as to if this commercial is acceptable. I agree it was ethical, but that does not always mean I will allow my kids to see something.

    Since I cannot stop them from seeing it, I will bring it up and discuss with them the views expressed in this blog, as is my habit of late.

    Jack: you are making a difference in my family: my 15 year old knows what ‘moral luck’ is!

  2. Who cares about analyzing and having a discussion over the meaning of the characters in the ad?

    In the end if Kids are watching these kind of commercials they are being told that bullying and especially gang bullying is all right and even funny!!!!!

    Shame on you GEICO for encouraging such hurtful actions in today’s social climate !!
    Bullying is not okay!!

    G Rapoport

  3. I wish everyone could see your point on that stupid commercial. I saw it as a paradox, too. Like celebrity female singers who preach stamp out bullying – then cat fight via “social” media or entertainment tv shows. Double standards…

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