Thursday, 30 January 2014

Thomson's Simon the Ogre - offensive to the disabled or just poor advertising?

Thomson Holidays has come under fire recently for its “Simon the Ogre” advertising campaign.  The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has received a number of complaints that the ad is offensive to people with facial and physical disfigurements, and that it trivialises disability.

The ad features a husband/father figure who has turned into an ogre and in need of a holiday.  The character is shown as oversized, hunchbacked with horns and teeth sticking out of his mouth.  During the course of his holiday he is transformed, losing his distinctive features.

The ASA has yet to decide whether the complaints merit further investigation.  Thomson has said that the ad was designed to show the revitalizing powers of a good holiday and no offence was intended.

Having seen the ad several times (I know, I do need to get out more), the potential to offend those with disabilities passed me by.  Indeed, I can’t help wondering whether this is yet another case of political correctness gone mad.  This is a fairytale style character that no more trivializes disability or facial disfigurement than the much-loved Shrek character does.

What’s more disturbing for me is what Thomson is seeking to achieve by the ad itself.  Yes, I understand it’s about getting people to identify with the benefits of a good holiday.  But I’d argue that the message is already well understood by the average customer and evidenced by the billions spent on holidays every year.  What the ad singularly fails to do is to associate those benefits with Thomson specifically, rather than holidays generically.  And it also fails to advocate the benefits of the package holiday over the growing trend for independent travel fuelled by the ease of online booking of flights and accommodation.

In my book, Simon the Ogre is a triumph of storytelling, prosthetics and lavish budgets over the core principle of convincing the average holidaymaker to buy a Thomson holiday.

Here's the ad for you to make your own mind up: