The Stoopidz strike again

rejected stamp

So… There’s a fuss about the image on the new Canadian $100 bills. There’s an image of a woman at a microscope, and in the original draft, she appeared to be Asian.

Focus groups didn’t like that. So the Bank of Canada changed it.

Some believe that it presents a stereotype of Asians excelling in technology and/or the sciences…

Okay, there certainly is a stereotype. The use of an Asian woman in this context and whether it is appropriate can be argued about, but I’m not going to do it here. So let’s move on.

From the consultants report:

Others feel that an Asian should not be the only ethnicity represented on the banknotes. Other ethnicities should also be shown.

Well, gee. There’s a great big picture of Prime Minister Robert Borden repeated all over the note, including right next to the woman. And you know what? It may come as a huge shock, but… He wasn’t Asian!

And then there was this quote from someone from a focus group:

The person on it appears to be of Asian descent, which doesn’t represent Canada.

Funny, I thought Canada was supposed to be multicultural. Guess not when it comes to being a real Canadian—only Caucasians need apply.

Here’s the thing that really got me, though. It’s the Bank of Canada’s approach to the whole thing, which exhibits a jaw-dropping level of cluelessness.

Exhibit #1: focus groups

Um… why were they using focus groups? Focus groups are used in advertising and marketing to get consumer responses to products and advertising—focus groups test ideas and compare them.  One reason is to ensure that there isn’t any content that might offend people.

(Well, that reasoning worked out well for the Bank of Canada, didn’t it?)

Another reason is to determine the level of effectiveness of advertising, so that the communication materials used are the ones that are best at motivating people to take whatever action the advertiser wants them to take. This makes sense when even small differences in response can translate into substantial differences in financial returns—you want to ensure that you generate and retain as many customers as possible, and avoid losing them to competitors.

So… who exactly is the Bank of Canada’s competition? If people don’t like a picture of an Asian woman on the hundred dollar bill, what—they’re going to refuse to use them? They’re going to go use some other country’s currency?

Why focus groups for bank notes, fergawdsakes?

Exhibit #2: the Bank’s response to the fuss.

In an email (to the CBC, I assume) the Bank of Canada explained that its policy is “to avoid depicting any particular ethnic group when including people as representative images of a theme on a bank note,” and so the image was replaced by (quoting the CBC) “what a spokesman called a ‘neutral ethnicity.’”

A Caucasian person, in other words.

Earth to Bank of Canada? “Caucasian” is a racial group. Using an image of someone from a traditionally dominant racial group is NOT being ethnically neutral, just oblivious to reality. Is it possible for someone living in the 21st Century to be this clueless?

This whole focus-group process seems entirely bogus to me in this context. All touchy-feely-involving-everyone-consultation—but only on the surface. No real acknowledgement of diversity.

It astonishes me that the Bank could lack understanding to the level of (a) not noticing that Caucasian = ethnic and (b) not realizing that removing a different ethnic representation could be just as offensive to many people as including it.

Congratulations, Bank, you’ve just made the top levels of The Stoopidz.

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8 thoughts on “The Stoopidz strike again

  1. Good post. Stupid it is. But, why expect something different? These are the guys that are so uninterested in saving pennies (this waste of money is but another example) that they are phasing out the penny entirely.

  2. Maybe someone at the Bank should have a look at Australian money…they’d get a big shock. Here it’s all about the country’s history and the people who have contributed something of value. Consensus is rarely creative.

    1. Yes—consensus has its place and is sometimes very important, but when forcibly applied to creativity generally produces the lowest common denominator—the least interesting, least effective option.

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