Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Just what are we all afraid of?

Why has there developed such a stifling fear of upsetting everyone? It doesn’t matter what industry you work in, there is always a Mr or Mrs X who are not allowed to be upset, and consequently there is an endless amount of work that is dull, tedious, safe and ineffective.

I happen to work in advertising and had an example recently. I had written a couple of radio commercials for a large German company, and they had been approved. Great. However, the account team wanted to change one small thing? I had proposed a couple watching the BBC’s flagship hour of nothingness ‘Casualty’ in one script.
‘We are worried that the client will associate Casualty with an accident’, said the account executive in all seriousness, ‘and we don’t have time to wait for them to ask us to change it. So shall we just change it?’
What? No, don’t be fucking ridiculous. Of course we shouldn’t change it. Let’s at least give them the benefit of the doubt of being sane. If they prove to be a bunch of muttonheaded morons, who can’t distinguish between a badly made drama show and a life threatening incident, then let’s talk again.

As it turned out, the BBC decided to be a little sheep headed itself, and wouldn’t let us use the name of one of it’s programmes anyway. So Casualty was a casualty and died within the script. I then changed it to the couple fighting over the remote control.
‘I think the client will associate fighting over the remote with being aggressive.’ Said the same account executive. ‘Shall we think of a back up option?’

I quickly beat her to death with a hat stand.

Okay, I didn’t really, but for the love of God where did this mentality come from? Firstly, can we not train people to think for themselves?
“I appreciate your concern Mr Client, but in all honesty you are being a complete ass. Not a single one of your customers will think like that. Now please stop worrying and get back to arranging the wedding to your own sister you inbred moron.”

It’s safe to say I would never have made a client facing account man, but really. Pick the bones out of the sentiment and deliver it with a benign smile.

Secondly, this fear stems from somewhere, and I’m not innocent enough to think all these concerns are unfounded. Fear breeds fear. And the people our account team are afraid of, are in turn afraid of someone else. They are probably afraid of the board, which is afraid of the shareholders, who are afraid of the public. But the inescapable truth is that the public nine, times out of ten, simply doesn’t give a shit!

If you mention Casualty, then I as Joe Public do not immediately think your company is going to be responsible for a calamitous disaster. If I hear the term ‘fighting over the remote control’ I do not presume that means fighting to a slow, painful and graphic death. I’m sure I’m not alone. But a blame culture has led to an accountability culture. If something goes wrong, someone is to blame. So unfortunately we have to cater for the lowest common denominator to ensure there is never any risk of anyone being to blame, and therefore no one ever being upset.

‘A Mrs Smith in Coventry recently complained that her cat was upset by the loud noise emanating from her television set when Emmerdale starts. Apologies have been issued, staff have been sacked and every episode from now on will carry instructions on how to lower the volume.’

Unfortunately, this now means that members of the lowest common denominator often end up holding very senior positions in some very large companies, and the rest of us spend our working days trying to appease them. I would suggest we try and rid the world of these soul-destroying cretins, but I’m worried somebody might take offence.

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