JY&A Consulting

'Up yours Osama' mightn't be the best advertising headline

Now with the safe(r) distance of time, a quick glance at an advertising campaign that never was

POLITICAL CORRECTNESS of the last 10 years saw to companies treading far more carefully in marketing. After September 11, things became even more cautious.
   Branding and global strategy consultancy JY&A Consulting always had a policy of offering some pro bono programmes but after the terrorist attacks, there was fear that that would be seen as capitalizing on misery if we were to target New York businesses. Meanwhile, a JY&A Consulting campaign that emerged in October 2001, based partly on ideas that happened prior to September, was scaled back and released only this year.
   A series of web advertisements to coincide with the JY&A Consulting site redesign in mid-October was completed on October 16, with copy that usually finished with the slogan, 'If you didn't want truth, you'd hire another consultancy,' which has become a de facto tagline for the company.
   The war-themed advertisements included 'So daring, we'd send Christmas cards to the Taliban militia,' cancelled because it rubbed too close to home to those who had lost loved ones, particularly in the US tri-state market. Others were a little more tame though partly inflammatory: 'We could try to brand the new International Criminal Court so Osama will want to come.' And a few had meanings known only to JY&A Consulting clients and staff: 'One man is trying to change the way the US does things while hiding in an isolated country. The other is Osama bin Laden,' referring to founder Jack Yan's autumn–winter return to New Zealand and his desire for the United States to claim the traits she has given to the world: freedom, tolerance and her ability to listen.

Above and below: The ads that JY&A Consulting turned down out of political correctness.

   A banner ad with the words 'We execute reports more directly than the Chinese government executes dissidents' was also considered too politically incorrect. 'If we built houses, Jimmy Carter would be out of a job,' was considered too distant and not humorous.
   One touting the company's linguistic skills in Arabic and Hebrew and finishing, 'If we didn't love branding so much, we'd broker peace talks,' might still run, but only as a follow-up.
   Said one economist, Ian Bobbett, when told of the campaign, 'You could offend a billion Muslims with one of them. You could offend a billion Chinese with another. You'd cut off half of the planet.'
   The company believes the decision to hold back the most potentially offensive advertisements is right, but there is a cheeky element to the JY&AC culture that politically incorrect humour is an honest reflection of the cordial working environment.
   Generally under 30, some JY&AC staffers have indulged in The Simpsons and South Park, so much so that a Homer Simpson line, 'It's a pornography store. I was buying pornography,' is known to its head office not as an admission of buying dirty magazines or video cassettes, but simply humorous relief to the working day.
   Yan says that people choose to be offended and look for problems when they don't exist.
   'A lot of great humour has come about through truth and sometimes that means political incorrectness. Our company's new campaign is founded on truth because our company distinguishes itself on its honour and integrity. Humour is a great way to show our directness,' he said.
   The division's October relaunch was focused strongly around its no-nonsense approach and its jargon-free strategies.
   Only one banner has run so far in the standard 468- by 60-pixel format: 'Advice more robust than Colin Powell,' suitable when the Secretary of State negotiated for support with counterparts around the world, particularly when he made his visit to Pakistan.
   However, it didn't prevent some politically incorrect holiday and New Year greetings to be sent to a limited audience. One with 'Up yours Osama' was sent only internally to head-office staff who would not take offence, while a more generic 'We might have to stop pigging out on chocolate,' as a New Year's resolution, was sent to clients. •