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Next it'll be that Jason Orange is not safe to walk down the Falls...

The row over Volvic's 'Orange and proud' ad campaign is not political correctness gone mad, it's just mad, says Eilis O'Hanlon

Published 22/08/2016

Volvic’s new ad
Volvic’s new ad
US prison drama Orange Is The New Black

Bad news for fans of US prison drama Orange Is The New Black. Netflix has just announced that it will no longer be showing the new series in Northern Ireland in case the title offends Catholics. Waterstones, for its part, is busy pulling copies of A Clockwork Orange and Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit off the shelves for the same reason, and TV's celebrity antiques expert David Dickinson has been told he's not welcome at auctions in Ulster in case his brightly tanned face causes upset to the locals. Well, it's better to be safe than sorry.

Of course, none of this has really happened - because it would be utterly ridiculous. Though is it any more absurd than the announcement that Volvic, the people who make millions from selling water, will not be running an ad campaign in Northern Ireland with the slogan "Orange and proud" to promote their new orange-flavoured fizzy juice for fear that it might annoy Catholics who take it as coded support for the Orange Order?

How stupid do they think we all are? Do they honestly believe that Irish Catholics, nationalists, republicans, whatever, are unable to see the word "orange" without immediately associating it with the marching season?

Do they think ex-Take That member Jason Orange isn't safe to walk the Falls Road in case his very name provokes a riot, or that sweetie shop owners in nationalist areas have to go through packets of Fruit Pastilles and Midget Gems and remove the orange ones to avoid protests?

That's the sort of idea Da from Give My Head Peace might dream up, but most nationalists aren't that daft, any more than they think The Real Housewives Of Orange County is a documentary about the wives of loyal lodge members.

It may come as a surprise to the ad men at Volvic, but no one freaks out at the sight of a Terry's Chocolate Orange, either.

We've had this nonsense before, when French mobile phone giant Orange in the 1990s reportedly toyed with the idea of changing its name when moving into the Northern Ireland market. Trust me, offer a cheap enough package and most people wouldn't care if you called it God Save The Queen. It's only a ruddy phone, after all.

It was particularly worried about the company's slogan at the time: "The future's bright - the future's Orange."

This was shortly before the Belfast Agreement, which cemented Northern Ireland's place in the UK through the principle of unionist consent, so it might possibly have hit a raw nerve with traditional republicans irked by what the future did hold; but, again, no one in their right mind would've believed that Orange was making a political point. It was just a coincidence. Coincidences happen. Not everything is about us. That might be bad for our ego, but, hey, we'll just have to learn to cope with that.

You could understand the fuss if posters suddenly appeared all over Belfast urging women to buy "Sectarianism - the new fragrance by Yves St Laurent"; but orange is only a colour and it should be immediately obvious to anyone who sees it that the ad is nothing but a lighthearted riposte to the rising tide of "anti-gingerism".

The young woman in the ad has blazing red hair. She's drinking orange-flavoured Volvic. She's celebrating the fact that she's a member of an out and proud minority. That's all there is to it.

The worst of it is that these companies are rarely responding to any actual controversy or criticism, they're simply doing it in anticipation that there will be a storm.

There's not even any evidence so far that it conducted market research before making this decision. It just seem to have presumed that consumers in Northern Ireland are such cry-babies that we'd have a temper tantrum if forced to see something that doesn't agree 100% with our own particular political opinions.

Admittedly, we haven't set a great example for tolerance in the past, but Volvic has also pulled the "Orange and proud" ad campaign in Scotland, too, despite the fact that the Scots have one of the world's highest proportion of gingers, who would surely love a drink that they can call their own when the Irn-Bru finally runs out.

Some might argue that it's a good thing if multinational enterprises bend over backwards to be sensitive to local sensibilities when coming up with ad campaigns; but actually it's pandering to the growing climate of over-sensitivity which encourages people to be thin-skinned in the first place.

That's exactly what happened in this case. People who would probably have responded with a smile if they hadn't been told that they should be offended suddenly decided that they'd been wronged and went on social media, or rang their local radio station, to have a little moan.

Let's call these people by their proper name - headcases. In fact, they're the kind of headcases who make other headcases shake their heads and say: "You've gone too far this time, mate, you're giving decent fanatics like us a bad name."

It's not so much political correctness gone mad, as Ulster Unionist MP Tom Elliott claimed, as just plain mad.

It's so last century, too. Haven't they heard? These days the trend is all for embracing controversy in advertising.

Ryanair and Paddy Power are masters of the game, putting out cheeky and provocative ads which they know will get them into trouble, thereby generating plenty of headlines and air time that brings the brand name to the attention of far more people than ever saw the original ad. Volvic missed a trick.

Instead of running scared of the orange associations, it should have welcomed them and let any resulting row boost sales of the product among thirsty Orangemen wanting to show their defiance, in the same way Tayto sold millions of bags of its tricolour-branded crisps around St Patrick's Day to people who don't even like the taste of cheese and onion, but who wanted to show their patriotism in snack form.

This latest kerfuffle is another reminder that the best response when someone says they're offended by something is usually: so what? Especially when there's a far more serious problem here that hasn't been addressed yet.

This is a part of the world that not only invented brown lemonade, but still drinks it, too.

Since when did everyone get so fancy that we're now tearing our hair out over some sparkling mineral water?

Belfast Telegraph

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