Three very bad ads from 2011: Presenting the annual Amphon Awards

And now, we bring you the first-ever presentation of the annual Amphon Awards. This coveted honor has been created, by us, just this very minute, to recognize and pay tribute to the powerful societal force that is Bad Advertising.

Get ready to take them away, Rusty

By “bad,” we are not referring to routinely mediocre, ineffective, uninspiring or non-creative advertising; rather, we aim to draw attention to campaigns that are egregiously insulting to consumers, to the culture, and to human civilization.

To qualify for an Amphon, an ad must invoke a reaction from the viewer that would result in any logical and reasonable person demanding a lengthy jail sentence for the parties responsible. (The legal justification for insisting upon incarceration comes under the French lèse-majesté precedent, whereby it is a offence punishable by a jail term to offer an insult to the state. Thus, the Amphon is named to honor Mr. Amphon Tangnoppaku, a 61-year-old resident of Thailand who this year was convicted under a lèse-majesté provision, after sending offensive text messages to Queen Sirikit, the Thai monarch. Amphon is currently serving a 20-year stretch. That seems about right.)

So. Mr. Bailiff? Please stand by, as we are about to announce the three Canadian winners of Amphon Awards, for the year 2011. And here they are:

  •  The BRONZE AMPHON goes to the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, for their campaign known as “Dalton McGuinty is the Taxman.” Proverbially snatching defeat from the jaws of certain victory, these ads miraculously turned Ontario’s widely unpopular two-term Premier from a reviled lame-duck identified with eight years of unremittant scandals and ineptitude, to something very different and unexpected: the pitiable target of a bully’s taunts. The creators of this disastrous campaign didn’t bother to articulate the vision or policy ideas of the sponsor, PC leader Tim Hudak, likely because they miscalculated public sentiment, and deduced the province was crying out for anyone-but-McG. Which, arguably, they were — up to the precise point when Mr. Hudak’s people unleashed these uncalled-for TV spots, laden with sarcasm and negativity. Political attack-ads seldom backfire, but these did, allowing the Premier to crawl back into office and improbably form a minority government.
  •  The winner of the SILVER AMPHON is a familiar name to those who follow the Bad Ad scene. It’s Rogers Communications, with their late-2011 campaign called “Free Tablet Offer.” Rogers, by word and deed, have maintained a longstanding habit of openly insulting their mobile-phone customers. Rogers has become famous for their usual practice of dangling a so-called “free” gee-gaw, contingent upon the client entering into an expensive long-term contract (which always contains convoluted terms, disguised service fees and onerous early-exit penalties.) It is a fact that these dodgy practices by Rogers, along with those undertaken by their few competitors, have spawned the creation of an entire federal agency, the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services (CCTS.) It is also true that the number of complaints to CCTS rose by 115 per cent in 2011, over the preceding year. Additionally, there are numerous web sites and forums devoted to discussing the dubious tactics of Canadian mobile phone providers: A Google search of the phrase “I hate Rogers” returns a remarkable 7.6 million results. That number is roughly equal to the number of the company’s Canadian customers.

The contempt may be mutual. Rogers’ TV advertising has been distinctively snide in tone, often to the point of appearing openly contemptuous of its customers. The spots airing in Q4 of this year represented a new level of belligerence (watch one here.) The spokesman for the offer is an unpleasant young man who seems to have deluded himself into thinking, thanks to the current promotion, that he’s gotten the better of Rogers. This leads him to boast insufferably, in his wife’s presence, that he plans to purchase phones as presents for his children, simply so that he can obtain a “free” tablet. She makes a mild, passing suggestion that they share use of the tablet, at which point he conveys to the camera his open disdain for his spouse, and her wifely entreaties. This is how Rogers sees its customers: Vain, stupid, self-absorbed, easily duped. The same actor-portraying-weasel makes his unwelcome return appearance in a second spot, where he continues to bask in his ability to get one past his phone company, at which point he flamboyantly rejects the friendship of the cohort with whom he is watching a football game on television. Welcome to Rogers World, where there is no virtue or verity — no regard for truth, beauty, love, fellowship, or family — that counts for more than the vague promise of getting another crappy new toy for “free.”

  • With that, we can now reveal the recipient of this year’s GOLD AMPHON. For several years now, the financial institution, TD Canada Trust, has been consistently waging its “Grumpy Old Men” campaign, which depicts the elderly in a mocking light. You know how the contemporary image of the senior Canadian is that of a vigorous, energetic, engaged citizen still active and happily making valuable contributions to our evolving society? In the vision presented by this big bank, you can forget all that. TD deploys two decrepit oldies as figures of ridicule, who have been trotted out for the sole purpose of standing in contrast with their dynamic, au courant money-lending operation.

On one level, this might be considered an audacious creative approach. After all, how many hundreds of billions of dollars have Canadian seniors placed in low-yield accounts in TD Canada Trust, and how badly does the bank want to risk pissing them off by portraying them as laughing-stocks — dehumanized props, unable to do anything, except kvetch into the camera? But, that’s just it. It’s as though, in the mind of TD, it’s not even worthwhile to imagine the consequences of offending that segment of the population. Aging Canadians, according to this view, are nothing more than the lumpen bodies you step around, on your way to conduct your important banking affairs. The two clueless fuddy-duds in the TD spots seem to play no role other than as objects. They are not fellow-citizens, neighbors, relatives, retired ex-colleagues, war-veterans, or your future self. They are caricatures, cynically objectified for the potential profit of someone trying to sell you a term-deposit, mortgage or car loan. And, make no mistake, these ads proclaim that by the time you’ve finished repaying your bank debts, the only interest TD will ever take in you is as something to point at, and laugh.

It’s stunning that any major institution would insult a segment of its depositors, with such casual cruelty, for so long a period, without resulting in a long series of complaints to a provincial Human Rights Commission. But, that is the Canadian way, to shrug in response to aggrievement. In many countries, those who give offense to such an extraordinary degree would answer not to a mere human rights tribunal, but to the criminal courts.

You may disagree with such draconian measures. You may feel that when a company insults its constituency with Bad Ads, it is sufficient punishment to avoid doing business with that organization. However, we say to you bleeding hearts: Nuts to that. Put the offenders behind bars.

That is the essential thinking behind the lèse-majesté legislation, and that is why these awards are named after Mr. Amphon Tangnoppaku. In a truly just world, the recipients of the 2011 Amphons, those parties responsible for perpetuating the year’s most outrageous Bad Ads, would have already been photographed and finger-printed, have completed the perp-walk, and would right now be taking their place alongside the unhappy Amphon, in detention, where for the next 20 years, the only audience for their disrespectful utterances will be… each other.

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