The Politics of Visual Culture
In the age of fake news and its impact on democracy, media regulations have been tightened against public service broadcasting that features adverts that are centred around political messages.
In the wake of such regulations, the question is refocused on adjacent issue on intent vs impact and whether or not political advertising be banned altogether?
The most recent case was Iceland’s would-be televised campaign under the hashtag #NoPalmOilChristmas that was banned back in November 2018 after being deemed as too political. The festive campaign was a short film in association with Greenpeace that featured an orangutan and the destruction of its rainforest habitat at the hands of palm-oil growers. However, Clearcast, the body that works on behalf of broadcasters to vet ads before they are aired to the public, omitted the release of the advert after deeming it as a breach of the rules of the Communications Act of 2003 that bans political advertising.
This did not stop Iceland from releasing the advert elsewhere since the controversy Iceland has not ceased to spread its message across to its audiences through the use of transmedia storytelling across their social media platforms.
The ad itself has been viewed more than 65 million times online.
ITV’s Chief Executive, Carolyn McCall, contested the decision to ban the advert.
“So Iceland ran an ad deemed to be a political advert in its entire form on social media,” she said, speaking on a panel at Mediatel’s Future TV Advertising Forum on Wednesday. “We could not run the advert, it’s so ludicrous [that it can run online but not on TV]. I think it should have been allowed. But if it’s not allowed [on TV] why is it allowed to run as content anywhere else?”https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/dec/05/iceland-banned-palm-oil-advert-should-have-aired-says-itv-chief
The general consensus surrounding this debate is the recognition that brands do have a responsibility to not mislead the public or spread discontent especially in the light of some of the previous ad related controversies that harboured social movements of their own.
Take the Pepsi’s advert for example that featured Kendell Jenner, which caused a firestorm of public outrage on social media after it was perceived to be an exploitation and pastiche of then current anti-police demonstrations as well as the wider social issues of police brutality against minorities in the United States.
Or other adverts such as McDonald’s “The Dead Dad ad”, which was released back in 2017, sparked a huge uproar for allegedly exploiting childhood bereavement. The advert featured a mother and son who were reminiscing about their husband, father at one of the chain’s restaurants. The scene itself could have been enough to keep campaigners at bay if it wasn’t for the comment on the explicit commoditisation of the child’s relationship with his father being summed up to the Filet-o-Fish he orders.
Lest we also forget H&M’s Coolest Monkey advert in January 2018 that faced backlash on social media after its portrayal of a black child modelling a green hoodie titled: ‘coolest monkey in the jungle.’ Following the backlash, H&M removed the ad after people labelled the ad as “racist” amid speculation around the possible boycott of the brand.
The correlation between all of these adverts is the increasing prevalence and implications of social media around the world. This also highlights the necessity of censorship to some extent through shared reviewing as with the advertising sector becoming increasingly more involved in emotive storytelling, adverts are at risk of crossing over into the polarised territories of social justice and inequalities.
It is then understandable why precautions have been made towards regulating what organisations publicise and yet it also leaves little room for creativity to explore other prevailing issues that often are left out of public knowledge systems and debate.
So if the focus then becomes centred on impact rather than intent, perhaps the greatest question that arises is: are there certain issues or topics that are just off limits?
Perhaps there is no room for ads to be political with many running risk of cultural commidification. This stark realisation also comes at the expense of organisation’s who genuinely want to dare and change the narrative around issues that are often considered as taboo. After all, it is the shift of people’s attitudes and perspectives that through the media and arts that shapes society by becoming political opinions, to then become social, economic and legal realities.
On this note, the power lies where it has always resided, with the public. Perhaps, it is our responsibility to “call out” organisations when they cross the moral threshold and praise organisations that challenge us.