08 November 2006
Visual Arts Trends staff report
Visual Arts Trends staff report

In the Land of the Free that is the United States, we don't seem to have much creative freedom. However, a shift away from political correctness to a greater degree of realism is already evident.

The US advertising community is seeing new ads removed almost as quickly as they are placed due to viewer and advocacy group pressure. It seems that political correctness governs too many creative decisions, and in the few instances where the advertiser does go above the status quo, the ads get so heavily criticized that the advertiser has no choice but to pull them. In our opinion, it borders on paranoia when a special interest group or an individual takes advertising personally, as the ads in question are simply clever and most certainly have not been created with the intend to offend. They are not designed to facilitate drug use, nor are they "political propaganda," as some have suggested.

We wish the viewing audience would lighten up. Nonetheless, the trend is in full swing. Hollywood.com reports that the FedEx Corporation, a global market leader in transportation, information, and logistics solutions, pulled its "Wizard of Oz"-inspired ad from TV rotation after complaints about the use of helium balloons in the ad by several baritone-voiced Munchkins. (The ad premiered during the Super Bowl.) American anti-drug advocates such as the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition, the National PTA, and the Partnership for a Drug-Free America voiced their opposition to the ad, finding it offensive and too suggestive for teens. First, have a bit more faith today's teenagers are not that stupid. Second, those who are stupid, that is are much more likely to be into things significantly more damaging than helium. It would be fabulous if organizations cited above concentrated on more realistic threats than a helium-inhaling Munchkin.

Another, perhaps not so ridiculous instance, was that of the Los Angeles Times pulling part of its new campaign in response to similar pressures. According to Hemispheres, the concept of the campaign was to show the scope of the Times' news coverage by comparing Southern California images with those from around the world. The ad that sparked the controversy showed "women in bikinis contrasted with an image of women in full Muslim dress, wearing long chadors that also cover most of their faces." Complaints that the ads were offensive came from the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Los Angeles office of the Feminist Majority Foundation. In addition, more than 200 Times reporters and editors had signed a petition objecting to the ads before the campaign's launch.

According to Individual.com, CBS has rejected ads of iBelieve.com, which the latter intended to place during the airing of the highly-touted miniseries, "Jesus." Interestingly, the network is also said to have been actively seeking iBelieve.com's sponsorship of websites for both "Jesus" and "Touched by an Angel," which seems a touch hypocritical. However, CBS's explanation is plausible: The rationale for the TV-based rejection was that iBelieve.com's ads were too close to the content of the miniseries and the network didn't want to confuse its viewers. This may be the most legitimate reason for rejection we've heard thus far.

Despite all the controversy, advertisers and their agencies as well as the general public seem to be shifting away from political correctness in favor of achieving a greater degree of realism. An excellent example is presented by the recent print and TV advertising campaign created for the Gay Financial Network (www.gfn.com) by Mad Dogs & Englishmen. Honest and eye-opening, the ad campaign expresses the often-uncomfortable way the financial world and its service providers react to Americans who are lesbian or gay. One of the TV spots, the anxiety-producing "Nervous Banker," brings the viewing audience face to face with the truly uncomfortable reaction of an unprepared financial advisor visited by a same-sex couple. While viewing the ad, one can feel the air being sucked out of the banker's office, as the discomfort level rises and spreads to the gay couple seeking financial assistance. "We wanted the spots to be entertaining and truthful at the same time by sending out a message that would be welcomed by both the straight and gay communities," explains Mad Dogs & Englishmen's creative director Nick Cohen. "We wanted the straight world to say 'Good Lord, is that how it is?' and the gay community to say 'Thank you so very much.'"

In sum, the period of extreme political correctness had to take place in order to raise awareness of a range of issues. However, it appears that an equilibrium between PC and reality is emerging. Hopefully.

About this article
The following article was adopted from an article first published in Visual Arts Trends 3S and is reprinted with permission.

About Visual Arts magazine
With offices in New York and London, Visual Arts Trends is an international quarterly "state of the industry" report for the creative professional. Focusing on graphic design, advertising art direction, photography and illustration, each report offers a brief, business-oriented, definitive and timely overview of industry developments that affect aesthetics, pricing, salaries, working conditions and client relations. Visual Arts Trends combines unique proprietary research with material gathered by monitoring hundreds of publications, companies, membership organizations, online sources, and other relevant sources of information. The reports review and analyzes professional trends by business category and by specialization. In addition, each report profiles client industries interviews with senior executives of leading companies and organizations. Visual Arts Trends is a trademark of and is published by Colonial Communications Corp.