I’ve been meaning to write about this since March, when the original Coopers ‘Keeping it Light’ ad aired, but haven’t got around to it until now. However, I think that the take home points from that ad are just as relevant now—and perhaps even more relevant with the postal survey about to close.
For those who may have missed the furore—or more realistically are reading this from overseas, as it was pretty hard to miss here in Australia—it goes something like this. Coopers partners with the Bible Society Australia to produce a line of commemoratively tagged cans under the “Keeping it Light” slogan, and subsequently filmed an ad featuring two Liberal party MPs discussing Same Sex Marriage. Perhaps unsurprisingly this didn’t go down well with the general public, and after just a few days the entire campaign was pulled (campaign archive here). So, then, what are the take home points from this furore? Well, here are some things that the ad got very wrong, and one thing it actually got right.
Getting it Wrong
Perhaps the biggest thing that the ad got wrong was the overall tone of the discourse. By placing it within the context of a ‘light discussion’ the creative team behind the ad severely undercut the discourse that happened within the ‘debate’—the tone and content of which frankly was pretty mild. Primarily, this is because the topic of same sex marriage in Australia is considered—as in many other countries—a heavy topic, and one that evidently is serious enough to spend $122M on (don’t get me started on that). But to pitch it as a ‘light discussion’ was sorely misguided.
Secondly though was the choice of conversation partners, in Liberal MPs Tim Wilson and Andrew Hastie. While the MPs do helpfully hold different positions, and Tim Wilson self-declares as same-sex attracted, they are notably both from the same party. That same party that has been notoriously resistant to allowing any discourse on the issue entirely. By pitching the debate as ‘light’ and between two members entrenched in a party that has traditionally disallowed this discussion both of the conversation partners are immediately categorised as part of a group that is negatively associated with same-sex marriage—despite Wilson’s own stated views.
These two factors probably explain much of why the ad received so much negative attention and subsequent backlash. Leaving off the whole concept of light beer in the first place, which is a serious mispitch anyway.
What it got Right
However, not all is lost. Despite the massive failings of the ad, it did get one thing right: face-to-face discussions. Much of modern social discourse is conducted over relatively impersonal mediums such as social media. This goes for the SSM postal survey as much as it does for political debate (see Trump), and debates over race and gender. While these mediums give some semblance of interpersonal interaction, they lack much of the emotional engagement that interpersonal contact generates, as we have discussed here.
What the Coopers ad gets right is that face-to-face one-on-one interaction defuses much of the group identity that is present on social media, and promotes interpersonal interaction instead. It, as social-identity theorists put it, reduces the salience of inter-group interaction, and increases the salience of inter-personal interaction. 2 Why is this important? Well much of the literature on change of attitude in conflicting social groups emphasises that most of the change happens at an individual level, rather than at a social group level. Indeed, interaction at a group level ‘increases the perceived homogeneity of outgroups and consensus among the ingroup.’ Effectively entrenching views within those social groups.
Perhaps then the take home from the Coopers ad is that if you really want to change someones mind on a contentious social-group issue, sit down with them face-to-face as individuals. Easy? No. But worthwhile. Just don’t use light beer. The next post in this series will focus on a practical example of this.