Thursday, October 21, 2010

Mmmm... Sacrilicious

One thing I try to do in this blog is bring up current social issues as they apply to advertising.

Well, here's one for you to chew on: In a secular society, are some people's sacred religious icons fair game for satire?

These transit ads (via IBIA) by Ogilvy in Aukland, New Zealand, for a local pizza joint are pretty cleverly irreverent. They are sure to offend some, and amuse others. But is this a socially responsible move at this point in history, where the religious divide is becoming more and more polarizing in politics?

Not that I would want to actually stop anyone from gleefully offending in this way. It's their right, at least in some countries. But I am also a little uncomfortable with mocking people's most closely-held beliefs, even though the pizza nimbus is pretty chuckle-worthy.

I should add, though, that the Chapel Pizza ads are not nearly as tasteless as this gelato ad that got banned in the UK:

That one made news all over the place, which I suppose was the intent. But how does it make you feel about the brand?

There is a Canadian campaign from a few years ago, though, in which I feel irreverence was entirely well-placed. And that's because it was a campaign from a church that wanted to spark discussion about religious issues for their own sake.

For the United Church of Canada's online discussion site about faith and religion, this campaign challenged viewer's opinions about sexual mores, biblical literacy, religious symbols, social justice and more. Check out the whole campaign. It's fascinating.

Now, I am biased because the UCC is the church I grew up in. But I still think there's a big difference between challenging the sacred to sell pizza and ice cream, and challenging beliefs as an invitation to philosophical debate.

What do you think?


  1. One is a light hearted play, one is a provocative challenge and one is an invitation for discussion. All 'may' be considered offensive but I think the irreverent ice cream ad is the only one that is truly blasphemous. Rome would not be pleased.

  2. Following this logic every ad that shows or mentions beef is offensive to the 1.2 Billion Hindus and Budhists. Haven't heard much concern for thier religious beliefs.

    Apparently the company is willing to alienate a portion of its' audience in order to get attention and attract others. That is a marketing decision. It is a decision made daily by creatives when they use sex, humour or shock to communicate their message. (Axe? Calvin Klein? Any major beer company?)

    Besides, why do we care? If "God" has an issue with it, then he/she can deal with it. Perhaps a certain pizza shop in Aukland should watch out for plagues of locusts, floods and firestorms.

  3. It is indeed a marketing decision. And I totally disagree with trying to legislate taste.

    What I really want to look at is the idea of responsibility in marketing. Are sexist beer ads irresponsible? Are fearmongering safety ads irresponsible? And yes... are religious-baiting ads irresponsible?

    This is not a call for censorship, but rather an invitation to discuss ethics and our industry's role in popular culture and social issues.

    The beef argument is a little different. My next door neighbours are Hindu, and we have had discussions (while both BBQing) about beef. They are not offended that I cook it, and I am interested to hear why they do not eat it. But each of us has a different philosophical relationship with cows, and neither is attacking the other's. (That's what I love about Canada!)

    Sure, the cow is holy to some. But I think there is a huge difference in intent between co-opting the specific symbols and icons of another person's deeply held beliefs with intent to mock, and simply interpreting shared "generic" symbols in different ways.

    Does that make any sense?

  4. Interesting topic. The ads don't offend me, I believe in freedom of expression. (and as Haggis stated, even the freedom to alienate 1/2 your audience! --well put!)

    But I think what is most interesting 'ethically' is that it has become socially acceptable to make fun of Catholic religion, while simultaneously becoming unaccepable to make fun of other religions because of A) political correctness or B)threat of violence, - case and point: Have Mohammed selling pizzas or lingere and see what happens.

    Good post Tom. Cheers JP

  5. I agree, JP. We should be consistent in our irreverence.