The top seven…most patronising pieces of communication

Sometimes brands have big ideas. Sometimes marketers get so caught up with a grandiose idea that instead of finding engaging ways to sell breakfast cereal, they start to believe their own rhetoric. And sometimes it’s just lazy marketing. Here are my top seven inadvertently patronising pieces of communication…

1) Last night thousands of women gathered in Sydney’s Centennial Park to take part in She Runs the Night, an event created by Nike.

she runs the nightI have no issue whatsoever with women, or humans in general, coming together to get fit and have fun, and I loved the initiative; my beef is with the slightly unsavoury subtext. When unpacked, it goes something like this: Ordinarily, Woman, you cannot run in public parks after dark without fear. But for one night, courtesy of Nike, you can run (in a pack) in safety, for a small fee, while wearing a t-shirt to advertise our brand.

Say thank you.

And Nike is just one (beautifully marketed) example of this: brands aiming for connection through their communication in a way that ends up coming across as condescending.

2) Emirates is currently running its “Hello Tomorrow” campaign, in which the very notion of the future has been co-opted. The ad is unquestionably gorgeous, and the spirit it intends to evoke is bordering on euphoric. But then comes the copy: “Tomorrow believes that the more of our world we we see the richer we become” it smugly intones.
I’m no grammarian, but I’m fairly sure that “tomorrow” is a noun, not a sentient being, and as such neither believes nor feels anything at all, and if it did, it might have bigger concerns than which airline to fly.

Possibly things like “if everyone is going to see as much of the world as possible via carbon-footprint-heavy international long haul flights, will I, Tomorrow, even exist ..?”

In any case, Emirates does not have the right to brand the future, and it insults our intelligence to suggest that it does.

3) There are a number of variations on this theme: any advert for a piece of technology which uses the existing technology to demonstrate the futuristic capabilities of the new.

“See colours like never before” as images rendered in supposedly new and brilliant ways fill your existing TV screen, or “experience sound so crystal it’ll set your teeth on edge” as a loud chiming noise peals from your dusty old speakers. Gosh. I can’t even imagine what that would be like because my TV just can’t support…wait a second…

This ad by Samsung for its 3D LED TV actually puts virtual 3D glasses over the screen so we, the viewers, can see what television might look like in 3D, if only we had a 3D television.

4) Kellogg’s Special K TVC from 2009 has stood the test of time in providing one of the most insinuatingly smug voice-overs ever. “Ever tempted by an evening snack..?” it wonders breathily, before providing us with a frankly ludicrous pantomime of a young woman suffering from early onset-senility which necessitates her leaving notes to herself in order to find the food she has squirrelled away around her empty house.

We’re left with a shot of the young woman gnawing apparently contentedly on an muesli bar while the voiceover reaches a frenzy of fawning intimacy. You can practically hear the VO artist baring her teeth in a painful rictus of smiling as she insists that these are “treats we’ll feel good about.” The insight juts through almost as awkwardly as the hipbones of the model and makes me want to shout “you don’t know me, Kelloggs!”

5) McDonald’s El Maco. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it’s offensive, but its portrayal of Mexicans falls into the category of slack stereotyping at the very least. Whatever Top Gear’s obnoxious presenters may say, it’s clear that McDonald’s is the lazy party. a) Mexico is not a country populated by men playing tiny guitars wearing oversized hats, and b) Mexican food is not so exotic and unusual that we need to be convinced to eat chilli sauce by a grinning mariachi urging us on.

¡Andele andele! right into the 21st century, Maccas.

McDonalds 2012
McDonalds 1994.

6) L’Oreal is still using a tag line that was conceived in the fifties, from a remarkable insight by celebrated copywriter Shirley Polykoff (the full story on Dave Trott’s blog).

“Because you’re worth it” had resonance and relevance in 1955, but in 2012, the idea that women still need to be given permission to spend money as they please – or at least, any more than any of us need permission to spend our own cash-begins to pall. That coupled with the fact that L’Oreal is no longer one of the more expensive brands in market these days starts to add up to an large, albeit, one hopes, inadvertent diss to the consumer.

Buy a seventeen dollar mascara. Because you’re worth it.

Why, thank you L’Oreal. You’ve empowered me to feel, well, not quite a million dollars, but certainly a smidge over ten.

7) And it’s not just advertising. This is a small and doubtless petty thing, but I think it stands to show that your brand’s proposition is communicated through every single interaction, not just your ATL comms. When you board a Qantas flight- after you’ve recovered from the cognitive dissonance of John Travolta appearing in pilot drag to introduce the safety video – then you hear the line, “We know you’re perfectly capable of operating a seat belt, but here’s a few tips on how this one works.”

Who was it who said everything that comes after a “but” negates the first clause?

John Travolta Qantas 



Cathie McGinn


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