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“Why don’t you come over?”

10 March 2013

We humans are deeply exercised by inclusion and exclusion, by who is in and who is out. Clusivity: the mother of all doubt.

At the end of January 2013, there was a furore over rumours that UK ministers were considering a negative advertising campaign to be targeted at Romanians and Bulgarians in order to dissuade them from coming to the UK. Prompted by fears of mass immigration in 2014 when UK curbs on workers from these two countries are lifted, the government planned to alert prospective immigrants that the UK isn’t a dream destination: the weather is bad, work is hard to come by, benefits won’t make your rich and the streets are not paved with gold.

Justifiably indignant – for who wouldn’t be offended at being singled out with a “we don’t want you here” message when it is their legal right to travel freely within Europe – the Romanian response was to turn to humour. The advertising agency Gandul launched a playful campaign under the heading “Why don’t you come over?” with the strapline “We may not like Britain, but you will love Romania.” The ads variously claim: “Half our women look like Kate. The other half, like her sister”; “Our draft beer is less expensive than your bottled water”; “We don’t have a Congestion Charge here. We believe the congestion is punishment enough.” And the ads get regularly updated, witness the one on 8 March:

happywomensday

Notwithstanding the serious issues which underlie this story, Gandul’s amusing tit-for-tat (notice that the UK’s campaign was only ever mooted, not run), wins Romania much sympathy and casts the UK as the all-round loser. In this case, a humorous response to unfair discrimination has won the day.

In my next blog “Taking the piss”, I shall turn the table on the British and ask, how does it feel to be  targeted by negative ads such as the following: 

skinhead

I’ll also addresses why Eurostar has had to fend off offended Brits on the one hand, and fans of the ads clamouring for posters and postcards on the other. Does irony draw lines of exclusion, and if so, who’s in, who’s out, and what’s it all about?

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