Office Depot's nice try tries just a bit too hard

By Published on .

Advertiser: Office Depot
Agency: J. Walter Thompson USA, New York
Ad Review rating: 3 stars

Very nice, this new Office Depot campaign. It's a very nice campaign. So, don't take this wrong. It's a good campaign. We like it. It's very nice.

Also quite considerate and forward-thinking, filled as it is with women and children, ethnic diversity and even a gentleman of, as they say, differing abilities. Yes, it is definitely a considerate, forward-thinking, empowering, esteem-building campaign that is very nice and which we like very much.

In other words, nice job, J. Walter Thompson USA, New York. You have found an audience of people who run their own small businesses, and you've gotten into their heads, and maybe into their hearts, and done some very handsome production--very handsome production--to yield a very creditable little campaign, which we like.

One of the spots is about a woman with her own business. Nice looking lady, early 40s, doing a presentation, bathing in the projected glow of her own very nice graphics, contemplating why she's an entrepreneur. ``It might have been the glass ceiling. Might have been the old-boy network,'' the voice-over says. ``But the real reason why 7.9 million women in this country have opened their own businesses is . . . because they can.''

Nice job, folks. This is solid work. Good for you.

Likewise the back-to-school spot, featuring two sweet little girls, one of whom is of Asian descent. And likewise the spot about the irony, in this increasingly digital world, that everything of importance still seems to wind up on paper. There's the owner of an ad agency (or some similarly hip consultancy) running the whole show from his wheelchair and at some point whimsically flinging paper off of a second-floor catwalk like so much tickertape.

Man does he get around. Para-patetic, you might say. Picks up the paper supplies himself at Office Depot. All in all, quite inspiring. Plus, he's a dead ringer for JFK Jr.

So, to be perfectly clear about this, this is a darn good, darn positive campaign. But there is just one thing, one little thing--and, here again, don't misunderstand; this is a small matter that probably reflects on us as viewers more than the work itself--one little thing that kind of gets under our skin a little bit.

OK, more than a little bit. A lot.

Possibly they went a little overboard avoiding able-bodied white males.

We know, we know, we know. Advertising has had more able-bodied white males than you can shake a stick at since time immemorial. Of course we applaud the burgeoning trend of diversifying the casting pool, especially when this means including in the mainstream those who historically have been shunted aside. Each exposure makes each subsequent exposure less jarring, toward that day when nobody even notices anymore.

The problem is, even after several years of this activity, nobody doesn't notice. It's still jarring. And when the most well-intentioned such gestures of inclusiveness are so pointedly clustered, the whole exercise ceases to be a subtle, incremental destigmatizing. Instead it takes on an ostentatious, heavyhanded quality that serves no one. What it smacks of is political correctness and tokenism, which can stimulate a backlash of irritation and resentment that feeds, rather than diminishes, marginalization.

In other words, there can be too much of a good thing--which is exactly what this campaign is. Too much. But also a good thing. Very nice work. Really. We mean it.

Copyright August 1996 Crain Communications Inc.

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