[…] 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.
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.