‘There’s no such thing as bad publicity,’ is a quote that is often associated with the iconic circus showman P.T. Barnum. While that may have been true for advertising in the mid-1800s, the same can definitely not be said for the social media minefields of 2019.

A new South Australian Tourism Commission (SATC) campaign titled “Don’t Feel Sorry For Old Mate” has caused quite a stir online recently. 

Universally panned by both members of the public and aged care peak bodies, the advert has drawn criticism for its stereotypical portrayal of an elderly person and somber tone. 

As the ad begins, we are met with visuals of a lone elderly gentleman taking in a number of South Australian sights and reminiscing as he watches others interact in positive situations around him.

The elderly man then begins an almighty climb to the roof of the Adelaide Oval where we see a close-up of the elderly gentleman in tears in what appears to be an extremely heartfelt moment.

This illusion is then shattered by a voiceover of a younger male saying, “Don’t feel sorry for old mate, it’s his own damn fault that he didn’t visit Adelaide sooner.”

While a minority of people have enjoyed the video, since its release just over a week ago, the vast majority of the viewing public have reacted negatively, labeling the 30-second advert everything from ‘sad and distasteful’ through to ‘ageist’ and promoting a negative stereotype. 

South Australia’s peak body for the interests and rights of older people, the Council on the Ageing (COTA), also shared a negative assessment of the video.

A  spokesperson form COTA believes that it evokes the stereotype of “hopelessness” that a number of old people deal with, and notes that the message in the video is more likely to put people off visiting South Australia.

 

Was This All Part Of The Plan?

Advertisers have an extremely long history of intentionally creating advertisements that are controversial in nature in an attempt to get more publicity, with a number of household brands like Levi’s and Nike using this technique successfully. 

The fact that we are actually talking about this advertisement right now is a testament to the current-day culture of outrage-fueled news stories. 

Even though the video is garnering more attention than it otherwise would have, whether or not it will have a positive outcome on tourism in South Australia is yet to be seen.

The SATC’s marketing executive director, Brent Hill, explained the problem the commission faced in getting people to visit Adelaide, as well as the reasoning behind the polarising theme of the video to InDaily recently.

“There are still many people who have put off coming to Adelaide [until] ‘one day’, or it’s ‘on the bucket list,” he said. 

“It’s a competitive landscape out there, and we need to cut through. Our message – come down, see it for yourself, and don’t put it off.”

Why The Backlash?

While there is no doubt that people have become very easy to offend in recent years, the fact that this advertisement used an elderly person in a less-than-flattering and gimmicky manner seems to fly in the face of recent efforts to foster greater respect for older people.

Ironically, the atrocious conditions faced by elderly people in the notorious Oakden Aged Care home in South Australia were the catalyst for the current Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, which itself, is actually based in South Australia. 

The fact that the people in charge of tourism in South Australia felt that creating a controversial add that utilises the tears of an elderly person as a punchline to help advertise the home state of the biggest elder-abuse scandal in Australian history is nothing short of mind-boggling. 

And headlining the advertisement “Don’t Feel Sorry For Old Mate” does nothing to counteract this notion. 

Some of the biggest issues that elderly people currently face also made cameo appearances throughout this advertisement.

 The elderly gentleman is portrayed as a spectator of social interaction, rather than a participant – which is a sad reality for a number of isolated older Australians.

Older people have grown accustomed to seeing themselves portrayed using somber tones and imagery, creating a negative and depressing stereotype which is a hallmark of this particular video. 

One of the problems that many governments and large private entities face when advertising is the fact that a number of the people who have the authority to make the final decisions on content are genuinely detached from the rest of society. 

And that is why so many of these types of advertisements feel disingenuine and continue to fall flat. 

I’m not sure if the brains trust behind this campaign were aware of the current climate regarding social sensitivities for the elderly, but regardless of whether this advertisement was intentionally or accidentally controversial, the fact that we are talking about the plight of elderly people rather than the beautiful locations in South Australia seems like a gigantic failure in terms of outcome

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