When John Oliver mercilessly skewers an ad because the taxpayer-funded product it promoted flopped, what's the agency that created the ad to do?
One option would be to ignore it. Another would be to write a lengthy public defense.
Some background: Last year, Portland, Ore., shop North launched a campaign to promote Oregon's healthcare exchange, Cover Oregon. Last week, Cover Oregon shut down its $200 million website after failing to get it working properly. On Sunday, Oliver—in his first HBO show—took the effort to task, using the most twee of North's music-themed ads as the lightning rod. The parody, hilarious and scathing, went so far as to bring in Lisa Loeb to sing about "stupid Oregon idiots," while a set behind her reads "You Fucking Idiots."
Yesterday, North chief creative officer Mark Ray responded in a blog post titled, "Yes, John Oliver, We Are Stupid Fucking Idiots." It's worth reading in full, but among the core arguments are that North had nothing to do with the website, the ad was one of a diverse group, and the campaign was effective in its purpose—raising awareness of the site.
Those are all reasonable, substantive points, and Ray's indignation on the whole is proudly and skillfully communicated, even as it devolves into defensiveness that a good-faith effort was met with such vicious ridicule.
Unfortunately, all of that is sort of besides the point—insofar as the point was for John Oliver to be funny without particular concern for substance or nuance. North's commercial, which leaned into an Oregon stereotype, was simply manna from heaven in that regard—a perfectly packaged device for illustrating the state's ineptitude in delivering a functioning website. Cheap shot or not, the joke connected.
Ray's response, meanwhile, may actually fuel the fire, tying the agency directly to Oliver's routine (which mentioned only the ad, not the creator, though there's certainly been plenty of ink spilled on its provenance). Indeed, it reads like performance art. And while the campaign itself may be a classic case of good advertising helping to kill a bad product, it's a probably rarer case of good advertising helping to make a good TV skit.
As frustrating as the reality of the exchange's failure may be, John Oliver probably couldn't have done his bit half as well without North.
Via Willamette Week.