It’s time our government stopped making insult ads.

20 Dec 2015

What is it with government ad campaigns that try to insult people?

What is it with government ad campaigns that try to insult people?

Drinking and driving? You’re a bloody idiot.

Throwing litter on the ground? Don’t be a tosser!

Driving too fast? You have a small penis.

Smoke marijuana? You’re a #stonersloth

It’s as though our government takes claims of being ‘Big Brother’ a bit too literally, because this approach seems more fitting for a schoolyard bully than a government approach to have a positive impact on the behaviours of its citizenry.

The more recent example is a bit funnier because, well because they are hilarious, and because it has also been accused of effectively creating an adorable mascot for smoking pot, but the underlying trend is still the same. Insults.

When one considers how our elected officials talk about each other in parliament it is hardly surprising that this is their main strategy. After all, politics is traditionally a game for people who don’t know how to relate to the ‘common people’ in any other way than insulting people they think their voters can be made to hate, or drinking a beer in public at major sporting events.

And to be fair, the politics of hate and ridicule is how many politicians get elected, and is true to how many of them perceive the world.

The question is though, apart from getting votes for politicians, clicks for hate bloggers, and lunch money for schoolyard bullies, do these strategies actually work? Are these approaches the best allocation of millions of dollars of federal monies?

If insult and ridicule were so effective you think we would see posters in schools that read “Don’t know your timetables? You’re a useless dumbshit who will probably never get a decent job!” or posters in public bathrooms telling us “Wash the pee off your hands, you filthy disgusting vermin!”

According to many people who actually deal with the consequences of these behaviours; health workers, educators, researchers, advocates and the like, the answer to whether these are the most effective strategies is a fairly resounding, “Nope.”

They will often call for actual community education or awareness programs, increased frontline services, and similarly useful and obvious approaches that rather than further stigmatise and isolate individuals seek to engage people, deal with problems head on, raise community awareness, and offer actual solutions.

An obvious counterpart for consideration is the approach of our neighbours in New Zealand, especially when the goal is to create a ‘viral’ campaign. Many of the public awareness ads that come out of New Zealand I have shared on social media, not simply because I believe so strongly in the issue, but because the ads are so good that they deserve to be shared. The ad where kids talk about how their dads drive when ‘blazed’, or the ‘ghost chips’ or the video where an accident in progress freeze frames and the two drivers get out of their car and one pleads to the other not to crash into him… I still get a little bit of goosebumps just thinking about that last one, and I often think of it when I am driving.

A favourite ad campaign of mine from Australia is ‘Condoman’, an Aboriginal superhero based loosely on a beloved comic book hero, The Phantom (Ghost Who Walks; Man Who Cannot Die), who tells people “Don’t be shame, be game!” above the message “Use Condoms” – I doubt I’d have enjoyed that poster so much if it also managed to call me a bloody idiot, or a tosser, or insinuate I have below average sized genitalia as a way of further driving home it’s key message.

Maybe I am just being wishful to think that maybe we can move beyond schoolyard taunts in our attempts to promote healthier behaviours and raise awareness of the impacts of unhealthy ones. Maybe I expect too much. Or maybe a part of the problem is that so many of us don’t expect enough, and don’t demand better… or maybe I need to release my own government awareness campaign slogan: “Don’t be an out of touch wanker and stop wasting our money by making ads that insult people! Hashtag #YouSuckAndEveryoneThinksYoureADick” – and speak to them in a language that they understand?

(I wonder if First Dog on the Moon will let Brenda The Civil Disobedience Penguin be our mascot?)

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