We live and work in a region that uses language well. East Africans are not by nature profane people. Cursing in the workplace is frowned upon. Western expatriates are often surprised to discover that swearing at staff doesn’t work here. It shuts people down.
Our Advertising Standards apparatus is rarely challenged on matters of taste. So, when something vulgar appears in the public domain, it stands out more than it would on another Continent.
Currently the insurance company GA is having a general accident with its latest billboard campaign. In one execution I have seen, a photograph shows a man walking along using his mobile phone and about to fall down an open manhole. The headline exclaims: S*!t Happens! And the intended takeout from the ad is of course that if S*!t Happens to you, you’ll be fine if you have paid your premium to GA. There are several issues here:
Firstly, what kind of brand needs to swear to attract your attention? What would you say about a person who behaved in this way? Perhaps I am being too prudish. Maybe I should loosen up because after all its “only advertising” and the brand is just “having fun”. But if this is a deliberate piece of brand communication, someone at GA must have written in the brief: “tone: jocular, have a bit of a laugh.” I doubt that somehow.Secondly, the man in the ad frankly deserves to fall down a manhole because he is walking along texting and not looking where he is going. So, what is GA telling this careless person? Don’t worry, it’s OK to be irresponsible because that’s what we’re here for. To pay the medical and repair bills incurred by irresponsible people.
I’m not sure that the Insurance Actuaries I know would agree with this. Insurance involves careful, mathematical calculation of risk and the attendant cover required. And a major part of that is an assessment of likely policyholder behaviour. Moral Risk – the likelihood of the policyholder lying about his circumstances or making fraudulent claim – forms part of this analysis. I don’t know what they call the equivalent measure for Half-Witted Recklessness but I’m sure it’s in there.
Thirdly, what is the GA brand promising about its claims resolution? GA seems to say that even a halfwit can fall down a manhole and enjoy speedy claim settlement. That doesn’t tally with most people’s experience of insurance. Even though the most forward-thinking insurance providers are working hard to change that perception.
GA is right. S*!t does happen. But few brands would choose let it happen on their own billboards
Chris Harrison leads The Brand Inside