Via the Sarahs at Saucy Sisters, some massive adfail on ABC show The Gruen Transfer. TGT was going to look at a “fat pride” advertisement that combines the Oppression Olympics and -ist-humour tropes tonight. The show, which played the Adults Surviving Child Abuse (ASCA) Wedding Speech child-rape-jokes ad in the past, usually bills itself as a hard-hitting critique of advertising.
But they pulled the segment from the air – because it was offensive to black people, Jewish people, and gay people.
The ad was made by agency The Foundry in Sydney, and was commissioned by The Gruen Transfer itself in their “The Pitch” segment, in which they challenge ad agencies to “sell the unsellable“. In this case, “the unsellable” was considered to be fat acceptance. There’s your first fail right there.
The unairable ad and discussion was not approved for the ABC site either, but they have given permission for it to be hosted on an external site, antiprejudicead.net. Here’s the ad (warnings apply, people telling extremely offensive “jokes”):
For full video of the ensuing discussion amongst the gaggle of white male panellists, click through to antiprejudicead.net. Here’s a transcript [long, so I've bolded a few key bits, my thoughts are below]:
[Sixties white-appearing male]: How do black women fight crime? Have abortions. [snigger]
[Thirties white-appearing woman]: How do you stop a poofter from drowning? You take your foot off his head. [unpleasant smile]
[Forties Asian or biracial-appearing man]: What’s the difference between Santa Claus and a Jew? Santa Claus goes down the chimney. [laugh]
[Thirties white-appearing man with five o'clock shadow]: Why did God create alcohol? So fat chicks could get a root. [smirk, eyebrow-raise]
[White print on black background, voiceover]: Discrimination comes in all shapes and sizes.
[logo] FAT PRIDE
Wil Anderson [host, in suit and tie]: Look, Adam, that’s very tough viewing. What’s your experience in making anti-discrimination ads?
Adam Hunt [ad creator, in T-shirt and beanie]: I worked on an account called The Commission for Racial Equality at Saatchi & Saatchi in London, and it was a Government anti-racism board. And I did this ad that used humour to attack racists. Here’s the one I made earlier, and it looks like this.
Adam Hunt: A lot of people loved that ad, and a lot of racists hated it, so much so that the British National Party, who’s like the bastard cousin of One Nation, made an official complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority, which they lost.
Todd Sampson [in black T-shirt with pixelated Kermit picture]: You can’t really compare those ads, because the ad that we just saw is not a quarter as good as the ad that was made in London.
Wil Anderson: What I really want to do is get behind the thought – where was your thought here? What were you trying to do when you made this ad for us?
Adam Hunt: Sure. Look, for me, the brief came down to three words: End Shape Discrimination. Anyone who’s ever been discriminated against knows that it’s not funny. So for me, the usual agency response to the pitch which was, you know, “let’s be funny, let’s make a gag, let’s make people laugh” wasn’t going to work here. Because any idea that made you laugh at fat people was actually going to celebrate shape discrimination, it wasn’t going to end it. So, um, you know – I was a bit stuck for an idea, and I went to the pub with a mate to play some pool. And as it happened, a really, really big girl walked past, and my mate cracked a fat-chick joke. And I laughed. And, um, I then, I literally choked on that laugh – beer went everywhere – because it was, it was wrong. It was wrong, and I had an epiphany about shape discrimination starting with laughing at a fat chick joke. So from that moment, it was about elevating shape discrimination to an unacceptable level.
Wil Anderson: So, was this the idea, was to take other unacceptable, you know, discriminations, like the most outrageous unacceptable discriminations, and put the shape discrimination on a level with those?
Adam Hunt: Well, yeah. I mean, discrimination is discrimination. And that’s my point.
Wil Anderson: Yeah. And uh, there was the tone of the other jokes used in the ad, more than anything, I think that took some people’s breath away. Did you ever think you’d pushed it too far?
Adam Hunt: I think the point is to say that if you discriminate against somebody on the basis of their shape, then you’re no different from somebody who is racist, homophobic, or anti-Semitic.
Wil Anderson: Did you worry that those jokes would, ah, people would miss the point by the end of it, because the jokes were so full-on, that, you know, that by the time people got to the end of the ad they would already have been distracted by the sharpness of the taking-your-breath-away humour before that?
Todd Sampson:I didn’t get past the black one. I mean, that’s all I remember, was the, how to stop crime – abortion – you know, that was it.
Bram Williams [in blue T shirt with "PUBLIC SCHOOL LEAGUE" on it]: I’m with you, Todd. I think that was what caught us by surprise on the panel judging it at the time , was the shock value was so intense that it almost became difficult to actually see beyond that. To go through what is actually quite simple logic behind what makes the ad work – we were struck so heavily from the outset that we couldn’t get to that conclusion within the space of thirty seconds.
Russel Howcroft: We had a chat afterwards, and I think that the strategy is really clear, I think that it’s a really sound strategy. I think that the execution is amazing. And as I’ve said, I think on the day, I think having the balls to do it I think was, y’know, good on them for having the balls…
Todd Sampson: Amazing in what way?
Russell Howcroft: What they’re saying is, to people watching the commercial about shape discrimination, they’re saying, categorically: “You think that these jokes – they are pointing out that discrimination is bad, around black people, around Jews”, and everyone nods, they all nod, “Well, this one is just as bad.”
Wil Anderson: Maybe the point of an ad like this, though is to say to people - I mean, people are never going to equate fat discrimination – look, I make fat jokes myself. I’ve made them on this show. You know? I made a joke about a guy eating a Bankwest pony. You know? And I guess what Adam was trying to do, and I don’t want to put words in your mouth, is to equate that sort of discrimination with things I would never do, which is to make fun of Asians or to make fun of Jews or to make fun of black people.
Adam Hunt: Exactly, exactly. Look, that came from that moment, and it really was an epiphany moment for me, when I laughed at the joke in the pub. Because it was at that stage of the creative process where I had like fifty scripts from the agency, and I was really struggling with which direction to go, and that moment made me realise that this brief was talking to me. You crack fat chick jokes, I crack fat chick jokes…
Bram Williams: Yeah but intellectually, that works. Intellectually that works. In the real world, the question is whether or not all viewer are going to process that communication in that way.
Todd Sampson: Yeah, I have two issues with it, which I’ve said to you after the show, and yeah. I don’t think it’s brave to do that, because it’s easy to offend. It is. It’s easy to offend people, and make people watch that ad. The two issues I have with it: first is, I don’t think you need to offend one group to help another…
Bram Williams: Hear hear. Hear hear.
Todd Sampson: …I don’t think that you necessarily have to do that, and I think the damage is…
Bram Williams: It’s collateral damage.
Todd Sampson: …I hate to say this after all the issues we’ve been through, but it is ASCA-esque. So it is a bit of a laugh, and then you kind of go, “well, that’s uncomfortable.”
Adam Hunt: Yeah, I don’t agree with you, I totally don’t agree with you.
Todd Sampson: Well hold on, let me finish. And then I’ll be happy to hear, because I’m interested, in how you got there. The second issue I have is purely from a communication construction point of view. Because – I don’t know if it’s gender, or you feel you’re offending – but apart from that, for me, the structure of the communication doesn’t work. Because you do not – there will be very few people who have seen that who will actually remember the fat joke. Which is the intention of the ad, to bring up fat, which is the strategy, to bring fat up to that level of discrimination, with the others. Very few people will get that. Because they will have been blocked by the first. So structurally in the ad, you just remember the harsh ones, and you don’t remember actually what it’s for.
Wil Anderson: OK, OK. But I’d like to hear Adam speak.
Adam Hunt: Look. I hear where you’re coming from. But for me, discrimination is the most offensive thing. You know, discrimination’s ugly. And if you want somebody to stop doing something, you’ve gotta show them how ugly it is. Maybe some of those jokes went too far, but my point was to say that if you discriminate against somebody on the basis of their shape, you’re no different from those other forms of discrimination.
Russell Howcroft: Yeah, I’m not sure that – I – I don’t know. Would the others that are the butt of that joke, would they – I’m not sure that they would be offended. Would they not say, “Yeah, I can go with this, because i have been…”
Todd Sampson [looking a bit pissed off]: If you’re a Jewish guy and you’re watching that ad, you’re not thinking about fat discrimination. You’re thinking “One, I can’t believe that’s been on television”, or in this case, on a webisode, and two, you’re thinking, “Why would you publicly have a go at me to help discrimination?” [cries of interruptions] So you’ve just taken discrimination from that side …
Russell Howcroft: You’re not having a go. You’re not having a go. You’re not having a go.
Wil Anderson: But none of those – I will argue that none of those characters in that ad are sympathetic. I hated every single person in that ad.
Adam Hunt: Correct. Yeah.
Wil Anderson: Like the performances worked for me, in that all those people seemed mean, all those people seemed nasty. It got the point that they were nasty people.
Todd Sampson: But structurally, Adam, you could have paced it differently. You could have started off a bit lighter, to allow you to process.
Adam Hunt: Do you know what? Through this process, we actually had two jokes we recorded for each gag. One of them was softer. I thought, “What if we start with a joke that’s almost acceptable, almost?” And we cut it about fifteen times. And at the end, it was losing the point that one form of discrimination was the same as the other, if you did that. So I went there and tried it. But the other point I want to answer of yours is that, um, you said, “I can’t believe that joke’s on television”. Mate, if you go to any pub in Australia, after eight beers, those jokes are out there. You know, they’re there. [loud interruptions]
Wil Anderson: These are not jokes, these are not jokes that you made up.
Adam Hunt: You know what? I did not write these jokes, you know? I went to some dark, dark websites. And every single jokes, not only were they poorly spelt, but they were followed by, they were prefaced by a disclaimer that said, “I’m not a racist, but…”
Bram Williams: The problem is though Adam, is I would be surprised, if after having screened that commercial, you wouldn’t hear more of those jokes more frequently in more pubs around the country. And that’s the unfortunate side effect, potentially, of doing it that way, is that you’ve added fuel to this particular fire. We can all sit there and say we wouldn’t behave like that, but the bigoted idiots most likely would feel vindicated and their actions would be endorsed in that way.
Todd Sampson: I also feel, Adam, that maybe this is, uh, I mean I don’t think it’s brave to create it, I think it’s brave to support it, defend it, talk about it, and that’s what all this is about, it’s a discussion. It’s not that we’re right and you’re wrong, because whatever way you look at that it could potentially have worked. I think the ad was, I think that it’s a symptom of how we create charity advertising, which is that I think your aim was at the Gruen Transfer, not at fat discrimination. That’s fine because this is The Gruen Transfer, but I –
Adam Hunt: Oh, no, I don’t agree. If my aim was at The Gruen Transfer, I would have done a gag ad like everyone else does. I would have tried to make people laugh.
Todd Sampson: What you did though, you went, you went, you took – I agree. That’s what was refreshing about it, is that it wasn’t a gag. But you did the equivalent of a gag in the shock style. So you’ve just taken shock to the nth degree, as opposed to …
Russell Howcroft: Just, just, you’ve just taken another genre, and I think, you know, Adam’s in competition. You wanted to cut through.
Adam Hunt: Definitely.
Wil Anderson: I think that we need to point out that, you came and spoke to the ad, but was this solely your vision, or was this something that the agency was discussing, pitching lots of ideas at? Like I think people …
Adam Hunt: Yeah, yeah, look. The Foundry came to a decision very early on, that this was a very serious brief, and it actually demanded a serious response. Once you’ve got those words “End Shape Discrimination”, you can’t – if you have an ad that makes you laugh at fat people, you’re off-brief. You know?
Wil Anderson: And we do ask, on this show, and we gen – it’s a bit of a behind the scenes, but in general behind the scenes – we constantly in our office are disappointed if agencies don’t answer the brief. Now whether, if they do it in a funny way, that’s fantastic, if they do it in a serious way, that’s fantastic. But we pitch them as serious briefs to be problem-solved. So you did – that’s what you were trying to do.
Russell Howcroft: Yeah. I wonder whether those that experience shape discrimination will say “At last we are being put at the same level as this other form of discrimination, which is clearly forms of discrimination that we’ve heard throughout our life”, those jokes, and I wonder whether they would say, “Hang on, I’m sorta into this”, if you’ve experienced that.
Wil Anderson: I hear everything you’re saying, and I’m not sure it would work as an ad on TV for many of those reasons. But I think it kind of would work as an ad on someone like me. But all I’m saying is that I do, it did make me think, “Well, I would not laugh at those first three things.” Well, I wouldn’t laugh at that particular fat joke, but I do fat jokes. Like I do fat jokes. You know?
Russell Howcroft: The second time around, was that shocking?
Todd Sampson: Well, the second time around – the second time around, I actually processed it. So I actually kind of, I saw, that was the first time I actually saw that they were despicable people, and that they were shot to look despicable. I certainly didn’t get that the first time. I got the smirks, I didn’t get the smirks the first time through. So I definitely processed it more that time. But the issue is, Will, it’s not about how good jokes actually are. It’s not about whether you’re actually telling jokes, isn’t not actually – the issue is about discrimination. And the ad discriminates to help with discrimination. Now you could say that -
Wil Anderson: I don’t disagree with that, but it also, it equates discriminations, so that someone like me, for example, because I’m just talking from a personal point of view here, who thinks it’s perfectly acceptable to make a fat joke, to discriminate against fat people, from the point of view that Adam was taking, it says to you – “Well, hang on, maybe what you’re doing is the same as someone who would make a joke about Jewish people.”
Adam Hunt: That’s exactly the point. That was the moment I had in the pub, when my mate cracked a fat chick joke, and I laughed. And I, I literally choked. That was the moment I went, “This is the crux of this issue.” You know, discrimination is different from so many things. Changing the brand of beer that somebody drinks is actually not as difficult as changing the way someone thinks. And when it’s discrimination, you know, it’s a really ugly thing…
Todd Sampson: Who is it aimed at though? If it’s aimed at racist people, it’s a joke. If it’s aimed at Will, who is not racist, who is insensitive, then it works.
Russell Howcroft: That’s right.
Adam Hunt: Well, it was aimed at me as well, it came from my personal – and I’ve been accused of being insensitive before, I mean, you know? And it was aimed at me, because it came from that personal experience. It came from my personal experience of trying to answer an incredibly challenging brief.
Wil Anderson: OK. Well, we should wrap this up. But I do want to ask you, what would you say to people who might have been offended by it? I mean, it’s interesting, they’ve come and had a look to be offended. But they’ve come, they’ve had a look, they’ve been offended by it, what would you say to them?
Adam Hunt: Look, I make no apologies for the strength of the idea. Discrimination comes in all shapes and sizes, and it’s all ugly. And honestly, if, to get to this ad, they’ve gone through so many disclaimers, and so many warnings, that if they’re still offended, look, I’m sorry, but I can’t say you weren’t warned.
Wil Anderson: Well, it’s been a pleasure to have you here mate, and I’m glad you’ve come here to have a chat about it. I’ve certainly enjoyed it. If someone could make me a list of people I can still make fun of?
Todd Sampson: The white Australian male. Go to town.
Wil Anderson: I mean, Amish people? They’re not watching.
The critique of the panellists completely fails to connect this one simple fact: That arguing “you wouldn’t tell racist or homophobic jokes, so why tell fat jokes?” misses the point that people do tell racist and homophobic jokes. Bram Williams alludes to this near the end of the segment, but the dots are not connected. These jokes are everywhere. The jokes in the this advertisement all have resonance because we’ve all heard them all before.
So how is the ad supposed to work? “We’ve conquered racism, now let’s work on fatphobia?” “We’ve conquered homophobia, now let’s work on fatphobia”? “Fatphobia is the last acceptable prejudice”? We haven’t, and it’s not. And it’s downright offensive for a bunch of white sexist blokes working on their personal growth to try to create traction by stomping all over other oppressed groups.
Then there’s the feeling that they think they’re the first people to ever think of this idea. They marched right in and invented the idea of “fat pride”. No one has ever worked for size acceptance before! How new! How fresh! How odd and wacky! For fuck’s sake, blokes, read a book or something, eh?
Plus. How do they not see what is right in front of their faces? They state it right there – they claim to have undergone these epiphanies, to have taken this personal growth journey, to have all realised that hey, fat discrimination is a horrible thing, it’s not cool at all. Yet they still introduce the brief as “selling the unsellable”. They still say that this particular brief was “incredibly challenging”. They still blatantly refuse to see that fat discrimination is an actual issue. They still buddy up and bond about how they love telling “fat-chick jokes”, without looking the slightest bit embarrassed about it. It’s something they’re playing with academically, and their protestations that they’ve learned something ring very hollow.
Todd and Bram say some sensible things. Todd stumbles on calling the racist and homophobic ads “the harsh ones” (in contrast to the fat joke?), but he’s kinda in character there, so I’ll pass over it.
However. Another big fail here. The discussion also completely fails to understand that that joke in question is not just a fat joke. It’s a sexist joke.
Why did God create alcohol? So fat chicks could get a root.
It’s a horrible, offensive, objectifying joke about women. There is nothing in there about fat men. It’s not about how certain people are unfuckable, it’s about how certain women are unfuckable. There is no mention of fat-bloke jokes. Not once, not once, do these men examine the point that this about about fat-chick jokes, not about fat jokes.
The blurb at antiprejudicead doesn’t get this either. “If you are likely to be offended by issues of discrimination in race, religion, sexuality or body size, please don’t watch.” Where is the warning for those offended by sexism?
Note that the writer of the ad had to go looking for racist, homophobic jokes. He was looking for material, so he wandered through “dark, dark websites”. He doesn’t live this, he doesn’t know it, he’s never been the butt of it, he doesn’t feel it – he noodled about on the web. And a sexist arse like this making fun of the “I’m not a racist, but…” crowd without looking in the mirror? Hm.
And the bit speculating about how Jewish folks should just watch this and get behind it? The less said about that the better. Dude. DUDE.
But wait. There’s more.
For what they did air, see this video. (You can watch the rest of the show here at The Gruen Transfer site.)
Wil Anderson: Just before we go to The Pitch tonight, there’s something you should know. We recorded this segment a couple of weeks ago, but we can only show you one of the ads involved in the challenge. I’ll explain more afterwards. [intro music, cheering] Now – The Pitch. Where two ad agencies take the challenge of selling the unsellable! The winner receives this Gruen trophy, made from fairtrade rainforest-friendly plastic.
Now, to be overweight these days is to run the gauntlet of public disapproval and humiliation. So tonight we’ve asked our agencies to do a genuine public service, and come up with a campaign for fat pride. An ad to made plus-size Australians feel better about it. Can they do it? Please welcome from JWT Melbourne, Richard Muntz [applause] And from The Foundry in Sydney, Adam Hunt [applause].
Now Richard, this was a tough challenge. How did you attack the problem?
Richard Muntz: Being in, being in a recession [laughter], we thought, we need more consumers! Fat might just be the thing to get us back in the black.
Wil Anderson: Well, let’s have a look.
[ad plays. Laughter is from TGT studio audience:]
Voiceover: The stock market. Unemployment. Housing prices. [standard clips of stock market floor, lots of walking folks in the city, red falling line graphs] We’re in recession. But there is one group of people who can save us. Superconsumers. [Headless Fattie montage] [laughter]
You consume 18% more than thin people. And right now your nation needs you to do what you do best. Consume. Because of you, farmers grow more food. [tractor harvesting wheat] Because of you, XXL clothes are made. [persona lyaing out fabric] [laughter] And because of you, airlines burn more fuel to get you off the ground. [plane taking off] If everyone upsized like you, Australia would already be in recovery. Thankyou, thankyou, thankyou, you supersized superheroes. [picture of bloke with a giant pillow stuffed down his shirt][laughter]
Wil Anderson: Uh, we did shoot the rest of the segment, but the ad from The Foundry, which may be highly offensive to some people, has not been approved for broadcast by the ABC, so we can’t show it to you here. For the record, on the night, the panel judge the JWT ad the winner in a three-to-one vote. We at Gruen feel that while the Foundry ad may be potentially upsetting, it was made to be a legitimate approach to the problem, with a sincere intent to persuade Australians to reconsider their prejudices. If you wish, you can see it at this website – www.antiprejudice.net – along with an explanation from its creator and a panel discussion about it.
The opening to this video does confuse me a little, because it seems that what he’s saying is that they recorded the Foundry segment a few weeks ago, then couldn’t air it for legal reasons. However, during the withheld segment itself, they make it clear twice that the panel was to be a webside, with warnings attached.
But. BUT. All the insistence that they’ve learned that fat jokes are uncool, thankyouthankyou The Foundry for this amazing insight? – all that? A little undermined by all the sniggering and adoration for the ad that is one giant fat joke, don’tcha think?