Tag Archives: TV commercials

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.

tl/dr

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. Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Childhood and children, Comment of the Day, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Humor and Satire, Popular Culture, Research and Scholarship, Workplace

Harassing McGruff: Oh-Oh…Am I Going Crazy?

Being an ethicist, especially a blogging ethicist, has its disadvantages. One bad one is that your ethics alarms are tuned to be so sensitive that you see, or think you see, ethics issues in just about everything. Now I think I just may have crossed the line into ethics-hypersensitivity madness, or EHM.

That GEICO commercial above really, really bothers me, and apparently I am the only one.

What is looks like to me, and did from the very first time I saw it, is cruel bullying and office harassment. Despite the stated gag in the ad, this isn’t human beings talking “baby-talk” to a dog. The ad depicts co-workers being deliberately cruel to a colleague because of his appearance, and arguably his race. (McGruff isn’t a dog; he’s a “Goofy,” one of the strange dog-headed animated human mutants most prominently represented by Disney’s slapstick star. Pluto, as made quite clear by the kids in “Stand By Me,” is the dog..)

I find it incredible that GEICO would put out a TV ad that makes a joke about bigotry and workplace harassment now, of all times. How is that funny? Poor McGruff is trying to do his job, and his entire office refuses to take him seriously because he has a dog-face. They humiliate him. They show they don’t respect him. They gang up on him. And GEICO’s announcer just calls it “surprising,” meaning “hilarious.”

I don’t find someone being made to feel like they are being relegated to the role of an office joke as hilarious. We are watching a classic hostile work environment scenario, and GEICO is telling us that it’s funny. Doesn’t that inform children that this kind of peer bullying and denigration is OK, indeed fun? Why doesn’t it? Because McGruff is a ‘toon?” Why isn’t that tantamount to racism? Because of how he looks? If there was a comedy scene in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” where Jessica Rabbit was mercilessly ridiculed and hazed because of her body, would that have been all right? Why isn’t the depicted treatment of McGruff the Crime Dog the equivalent of making relentless comments about a co-worker’s unusually large breasts, or weight?

Or am I just seeing an ethics breach that isn’t there? Go ahead, you can tell me. I can take it.

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Character, Gender and Sex, Humor and Satire, Workplace

From The Scary Tales Of The Cognitive Dissonance Scale Files: The Ram Trucks Super Bowl Commercial

Perhaps more than any other field of endeavor, advertising depends on the Secret of the Cognitive Dissonance Scale. But the scale abused is a jealous and angry mistress, as Chrysler/ Fiat discovered when its Super Bowl for Ram Trucks turned into a public relations disaster.

It must have seemed so simple! Brainstorming about how to promote Ram Trucks while appealing to a divided the country during the iconic NFL game, after a year in which pro football in particular was torn by strife over players, mostly black, kneeling during the National Anthem to protest something or other, depending on which helmeted social justice warrior you asked, some rising, present-day Mad Man, cynical to the core, drew Dr. Festinger’s scale on a white board as he shouted, “Eureka!”

“It’s perfect!” the fuzzy cheeked, rising young advertising genius cried, marking the diagram with the red marker. “I know how we drag our truck up the scale!”

“Ram is a powerful truck and a symbol of toxic manhood, when everyone’s talking about how men, and especially white men, are the source of all that’s rotten in Denmark! Well, not Denmark, but here. You know what I mean. Anyway, for some of our clients we’ve been using little, scrawny, androgynous guys as spokesmen, like the geek Lou dreamed up for Petsmart.

 

He’s not scary, and you know he must be a Hillary voter. But come on: this dork probably drives a Smartcar. We can’t use someone like him to promote a truck. No, Fred, we can’t use a sexy female model, either, like we used to. Sexy models are now below zero on the scale. They’d pull our trucks DOWN. Oh, a lot of men would still secretly love this stuff like we used to do,

but now  their girl friends or wives or daughters would glare at them, and getting flack from women in the family is LOW on the scale. So sex is out. Sorry.

Now, the Petsmart geek does have a dog with him. Dogs are high on the scale, as we all know: Ralph, you were the one came up the ad with the Golden Retriever driving the Subaru, right?

 

Gold! But come on: kids and dogs have been done to death in Super Bowl ads. There will probably be all sorts of cute dog ads during the Super Bowl; there always are. [ Actually, there weren’t…]  So think: we want a man’s voice, a manly man, but one that doesn’t scream white male patriarchy or Harvey Weinstein.  We want someone the fans of those National Anthem protests and Black Lives Matter will have high on their Cognitive Dissonance Scale, so associating Ram Trucks with him will yank the trucks right up. We also want someone  the fans who were getting sick of political grandstanding when they wanted to watch a football game also admire, someone who knew how and why to protest. And, at the same time, we want Ram to look socially conscious—you know, “woke.”

One figure, and only one, will do all that, from a position so high on the scale that we can’t lose! Martin Luther King! Heck, all of those blue collar workers just got a day off because of the guy; it’s fresh on their minds. They love him! A day-off pulls MLK right up the scale himself!

And look: I did some googling, and found this from some speech he gave: “If you want to be important, wonderful. If you want to be recognized, wonderful. If you want to be great, wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That’s a new definition of greatness. … By giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great. … You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know the theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.”

Great stuff, right? There’s “greatness: for the MAGA crowd, and “love,” which is Scale magic, and we can fill the ad with heartwarming scenes—with kids!

—all leading up to our Dodge Trucks theme, ‘Ram trucks are built to serve‘!

The cheering in the meeting room was deafening.

Morons.

Today, that once rising ad exec starts his new job at Taco Bell.

Martin Luther King didn’t pull Dodge Trucks up the scale. Cynical exploitation of a civil rights icon and turning a black martyr into Morgan Freeman’s competition as a rival pitch man (Morgan was doing Mountain Dew) is so low on the Cognitive Dissonance Scale that it pulled the product’s rating right through the floor.

This is rank incompetence. If you are going to try to exploit the image and words of a dead hero, at least learn something about him. At the time of his death, King was getting ready to make a push for socialist reforms, which meant attacking capitalism. You also should read the whole speech you are cherry picking from; you can bet someone else will. Here’s a section from that same speech:

“…we are so often taken by advertisers. You know, those gentlemen of massive verbal persuasion. And they have a way of saying things to you that kind of gets you into buying. In order to be a man of distinction, you must drink this whiskey. In order to make your neighbors envious, you must drive this type of car. In order to be lovely to love you must wear this kind of lipstick or this kind of perfume. And you know, before you know it, you’re just buying that stuff. … I got to drive this car because it’s something about this car that makes my car a little better than my neighbor’s car. … I am sad to say that the nation in which we live is the supreme culprit. And I’m going to continue to say it to America.”

This means that using King’s voice and words to appear to endorse a truck ad seen by millions is a lie.

The King family’s greed and poor stewardship of King’s image also shares some of the blame for the fiasco. The King Center quickly went on  Twitter to say that neither the organization nor the Rev. Bernice King, one of Dr. King’s daughters, was responsible for approving the offensive Super Bowl commercial. That’s not exactly true. Eric D. Tidwell, the managing director of Intellectual Properties Management, the licenser for the estate, said that Ram, as it must, came to them for permission to use King’s name, voice and words. “Once the final creative was presented for approval, it was reviewed to ensure it met our standard integrity clearances,” he said in a statement. “We found that the overall message of the ad embodied Dr. King’s philosophy that true greatness is achieved by serving others.”

Obviously the King family did not take proper steps to ensure that those who handle the family profit center depending on commercial uses of Dr. King’s legacy understand the difference between embodying Dr. King’s philosophy and cynically distorting it to sell stuff. Intellectual Properties Management is paid to take the PR hit, but I’d be willing to bet that such a high profile use of King was approved by the family itself. After all, King isn’t pulled down the scale by a foolish commercial. The controversy might even help King’s image, by sending people to read the speech. Maybe the King family knew the commercial would burn Ram, but was willing to take their fee and watch the fun, as the Cognitive Dissonance Scale wreaked its terrible vengeance on those who would abuse its power.

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Family, Government & Politics, History, Marketing and Advertising, Quotes, Race

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 9/19/17: Pelosi Asked For It And Got It, Hillary Is A Disgrace, The Unabomber Was Right…And The Importance Of Caring

Good Morning!

1 Red Sox colors. I sometimes feel guilty about the fact that since I was 12, the fate of the Boston baseball team has been able to elevate or undermine my view of the day, existence  and the cosmos regardless of what other far more objectively important and significant events have occurred within my family, in my life, or to nation or the world. It is because I care, as writer Roger Angell once wrote in his New Yorker essay “Agincourt and After” (I know I have quoted it before), and caring itself has importance, whatever the object of it…

“It is foolish and childish, on the face of it, to affiliate ourselves with anything so insignificant and patently contrived and commercially exploitive as a professional sports team, and the amused superiority and icy scorn that the non-fan directs at the sports nut (I know this look — I know it by heart) is understandable and almost unanswerable. Almost. What is left out of this calculation, it seems to me, is the business of caring — caring deeply and passionately, really caring — which is a capacity or an emotion that has almost gone out of our lives. And so it seems possible that we have come to a time when it no longer matters so much what the caring is about, how frail or foolish is the object of that concern, as long as the feeling itself can be saved. Naivete — the infantile and ignoble joy that sends a grown man or woman to dancing and shouting with joy in the middle of the night over the haphazardous flight of a distant ball — seems a small price to pay for such a gift.”

2. This video is almost res ipsa loquitur for its ethical content:

Almost.

There you have it: proof positive of the slippery slope the sloppily sentimental, irresponsible support for “Dreamers” polishes to a fine sheen. The illegal immigration, open borders and anti-U.S. sovereignty activists won’t be satisfied, because they really think they have a right to just take U.S. citizenship irrespective of our laws. They will also call anyone who opposes that assertion “racist.” They are so deluded, moreover, that they don’t realize how much a display like the one above damages their unethical cause. I heard some commentators say the episode made them feel sorry for Pelosi. Sorry for her? Her demagoguery and her  party’s dishonesty and cynicism on this issue is what created that mob.

This was what George Will calls “condign justice.” Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Character, Childhood and children, Citizenship, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Family, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Rights, Science & Technology, Sports, This Helps Explain Why Trump Is President

Major League Baseball’s Hypocritical Effort To “Speed Up The Game” Gets Sinister

extra-innings

When I was a kid, listening to Curt Gowdy describe the discouraging daily travails of the Boston Red Sox of Chuck Schilling, Frank Malzone, Gene Conley and Pumpsie Green over WHDH in Boston, sponsored by Atlantic Refineries (“Atlantic keeps you car on the go,go go,GO!”) and Narragansett Beer (“Hi, neighbor! Have a ‘Gansett! Straight from the barrel taste!”), most baseball games were done in two and a half hours. Now three hours is average, and for Red Sox games, four hours is not unusual. For those of us who enjoy baseball, this is hardly a tragedy, though it can be an inconvenience, and in my case, a major reason why my two languishing ethics books are still incomplete.

The honchos of the game, however, worry that the increasing time of games limits the game’s appeal to the younger generations, whose attention span resembles that of kittens, except for the relative few who can appreciate such features as drama, compelling narratives, suspense, character and probabilities. Thus MLB has been for years trying various measures to pare some of the time out of the modern baseball game. The baseball execs also act and talk as if they have no idea why the games have lengthened. They know. Anyone who follows the game knows. Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, History, Sports

“Start The Car!” Ethics

“Start the car!” shouts the woman in a ubiquitous IKEA TV commercial for its “Winter Sale.” She has received her receipt, and  the total is so low that she assumes there has been a mistake.  She quickly exits the store with bags of purchases, and while running calls to her husband in the car outside so he will pick her up and hit the gas before someone comes to reclaim the merchandise or demand more payment. As they drive away with what she thinks are her ill-gotten gains, she lets out a whoop of triumph.

The narration explains that IKEA’s sale prices are so low, this how you will feel.

The commercial is unethical. It trivializes and normalizes theft, and rejects the ethical values of honesty, integrity and responsibility. Apparently the ad has been running internationally for a long time (it only just started showing up in my region) and is very popular. Writes one industry commentator, “People relate to the message because at one point or another while shopping we’ve all had that feeling that we just got away with something.”

Really? I haven’t. My father didn’t either (my mom was another story.) I’ve told waitresses and clerks that they undercharged me. I’ve returned excessive change. I’ve handed back money to tellers when two bills stuck together. You don’t? What the hell’s the matter with you? Were you raised by Fagin?

Though the commercial was a hit and positively accepted in all of the nations where it was viewed, there is hope:  it also received many negative comments and complaints. An Advertising Standards Board—I cannot for the life of me find out which; the U.S. has no such board. I’m guessing Sweden— thus considered whether this advertisement breached   its Advertisers Code of Ethics.

The breach would be that the commercial isn’t socially responsible, since it represents taking merchandise from a store that hasn’t been fully paid for as normal and acceptable conduct. The Board viewed the advertisement in light of the complaints and decided that the ad was ethically inoffensive.

Guess why.

No, go ahead, guess.

Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Business & Commercial, Marketing and Advertising, Professions

From The Ethics Alarms Mail Bag: A Reader Asks, “Is The Verizon Wireless “Can You Hear Me Now?” Guy Unethical For Going Over To Sprint?

Question: Is the former Verizon Wireless spokes-character  whose tag line was “Can you hear me now?” unethical to star in commercials for Verizon competitor Sprint?

Answer: No, because that character, “the Test Man,” wasn’t real.

The real actor who played him, Paul Marcarelli, was playing a character and reading a script. He was acting the role of someone who told the audience how good the Verizon Wireless network was. He didn’t have to believe what he said was true. His loyalty extended no farther than his contractual obligations. The actor wasn’t ethically obligated to use Verizon Wireless, like it, understand it or believe in it, any more than Dos Equis’s “most interesting man in the world” has to really be interesting. Once the first ad series was dropped, he was a free agent.

Verizon could have included some kind of non-compete provision in the contract, forbidding Marcarelli from doing ads for a competitor, at least for a while.  It definitely could have prevented him from playing the same character as he played in the Verizon commercials, because that character is owned by Verizon. However,  Marcarelli uses his real name, Paul, in those Sprint ads, so he can argue that he’s not playing the Verizon character, but himself, and he owns the rights to “Paul Marcarelli.”

However, I do think the Sprint ads are unethical, and so obviously dishonest that they reflect poorly on Sprint. Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Marketing and Advertising, Professions