Ritson: 'Say no to no' stifles debate

Mark RItson (1).jpgBy Mark Ritson
Adjunct Professor of Marketing at Melbourne Business School

As the political chaos surrounding same-sex marriage continues, it now appears certain that Australia will be asked to participate in a voluntary postal plebiscite on the issue next month unless a High Court challenge succeeds. On September 12, registered voters will be asked to vote Yes in favour of marriage equality or No against it.

No one, to my knowledge, has surveyed media and marketing people about their opinions on the issue. But I'll buy you lunch all week if it's anything less than about 80 per cent in favour. Most marketers have always swayed hard left, and their colleagues in advertising land even further.

It's perhaps no surprise, therefore, that a campaign has started to not only promote the importance of supporting the Yes vote in September, but also asking all professionals engaged across the media and marketing industries to decline any invitation to work on the No campaign should they be approached.
Created by legendary Royals creative partner Nick Cummins, Say No to No, was launched two weeks ago. It asks all media and marketing people to refuse to work on any aspect of the No campaign.

The site asks visitors to sign an online pledge and commit to not working on the No campaign. So far it's received more than 500 signatures and the names on the list read like a who's who of notable advertising, marketing and media personalities. I counted at least a dozen friends and nearly as many heroes.

While I appreciate the polite and respectful manner in which this request has so far been presented, I confess that the wholesale support not only for a Yes vote but for a blanket ban on working for the No campaign disturbs me greatly.


View results on the Campaign Brief poll, which currently shows 60% of the ad industry is in favour of same sex marriage.


Ben said:

Sugary treats are a choice, equality should (must!) be a right for all. So there should be no debate, it should just be done. So I don't care if it's stifled.

I agree wholeheartedly.

While I am part of the 'Yes' team, acts like this do nothing to sway those who are on the fence across to voting 'for' SSM (the most important people to reach).

And, more often than not, bullish moves like this will sway those who are ambivalent over to the 'No' side out of sheer spite of being treated as lesser beings (as many of my friends and colleagues have been saying).

Virtue signalling doesn't further this at all, and a hard look at what they actually need to do to make a significant positive difference is needed.

Move on straight white guy said:

Perhaps don't have an opinion on a matter a white straight male will never understand.
80% are in favor as a gestimate makes it obvious you have never been called 'F**ot' or queen in the work place in advertising. A blanket of banning working on 'no campaigns' is needed when a minority have no voice.

Groucho said:

A cynic might see the whole say no to no thing as merely grandstanding.

Rob said:

"Read the full piece in the Australian."

Well that says a lot.

Say No to No is a great idea, that demonstrates both to clients and to the general public, that the marketing and advertising industries are on their side.

Stifling debate has nothing to do with it. Those who are against gay marriage will still talk and promote their perspective, some of whom will inevitably be making offensive and downright misleading arguments. The stupid plebiscite arrangement means that gay marriage is getting treated like a 50/50 issue when it clearly is not.

Human rights are not a ratio game, and even if they were, we already know from wider surveys that the majority of the public support SSM. It's only the hard right LIberal members putting their fingers in their ears so they can't hear what's coming, that is delaying it.

Kenny Hill said:

"all progress depends on the unreasonable man"
George Bernard-Shaw

Hi Mark,

Normally I like reading your work, but I felt compelled to respond on this occasion with two points.

1. I'm interested to hear what it is that disturbs you greatly, but cannot bring myself to subscribe to the Australian in order to find out.

2. Wanna know what really disturbs me greatly?

The fact that I'm legally a second clasd citizen in a country I've decided to become a citizen of and have to put up with my status as a second class citizen being debated and kicked around like a football on a daily basis, even in environments such as this where we're supposed to be talking about ads.

The fact that people are using something so important and central to who I am as an individual to draw attention to themselves with headlines and statements like yours.

The fact that some people in the industry decided to do something supportive of their second class friends, family and colleagues that is then criticized by people in positions of power with the backing of the right wing media.

All this talk if reasonable debate is frankly getting tedious and is so transparently a tactic of those who support inequality.

When a group of people are constantly belittled, marginalized, put down and spat upon by the ruling elite, eventually something has to give. And staying "reasonable" is like debating with an angry, spoilt child. It gets you nowhere.
Just look back at what lengths Mandella or the suffragette movement had to go to. I somehow can't see hunger strikes or petrol bombs over this, but please prepare yourself for many more moments of being "greatly disturbed".

I for one will not temper my feelings and statements just so you can feel less threatened in your comfortably white, middle class, heterosexual bubble.



Have a lovely day everyone:-)


Mark said:

Mark has not taken a moral position here. He makes a dispassionate observation of how the intersection of moral issues and commercial opportunities are conspiring toward an ever narrowing band of allowable (read non-career diminishing) discourse. This is true of SSM, but it is also true of many other issues.

Let’s remember, we now have in many countries, regulators who will decide whether advertising content contravenes new rules on ‘stereotyping’, and the instruments through which they can now punish advertisers who don’t adhere to their world view. Once upon a time advertising was both reflector, and spearhead, for society. The market have feedback, and advertisers responded. That is soon to be a thing of the past. Regulators have the power to say ‘no’ to a piece of advertising which may well and truly reflect the reality of the market place, but not the social ideal they happen to wish for. Perhaps Advertising Agencies could band together for a “Say No to No” campaign on this front as well. I doubt we’ll see that.

On the issue of SSM Mark should be commended for even going here. Any piece on this topic which isn’t the usual CEO scribed, platitude-ridden brand positioning statement that today fills so many LinkedIn feeds, is too easily attributed to bigotry, and its author permanently classed a certain type of yesterday person. Delivered by a white-male, by golly that is a scandalous thing indeed. Such is the perverse nature of post-modernism, where the weight and virtue of an opinion is graded no longer on its content, but according to how victimised its messenger is. That is nefarious, and that is something Mark is touching on here.

Erudite as most advertising folk are, these new and troubling dimensions should - on principal - trouble them. Rather, they are increasingly complicit.

Ritson’s pedigree as a seasoned and rational contrarian allows him some wriggle room, and he can feel comfortable speaking out here, but most are not afforded this luxury. SSM will be legalized soon. A great portion will approve it willingly. A smaller portion will approve it rationally, but with some visceral but concealed reluctance. And a smaller portion still will reject it. Any opinion across this spectrum, so long as it is devoid of explicit nastiness, is completely valid. If an agency wished to pursue a client’s NO position, so long as that position was elegantly put, that should not be set-up to be a self-inflicted commercial wound.

SayYesToYes said:

I'm all for the Yes vote but seriously Nick should grow up and realise that freedom of speech and open debate is vital for an open society, just look at china and the likes.

The left spent years fighting for freedom of speech now they want to rip it from society for their own ends.

Vote Yes I say but remember the left = 1984.

@SayYesToYes said:

Freedom of speech also means that individuals have a right not to work on something.
I seriously can't see anything wrong with this campaign.

Freedom of Speech on human rights. said:

Dear Mark:

I usually like your writing and opinion. I wanted to make that clear. But you know what disturbs me greatly? People marching with Nazi Flags, uniforms, helmets and torches in the year 2017. That disturbs me greatly. Posters in Melbourne lanes which read "Stop the Fags". Disturbs me greatly. Children being run over by vans. Disturbs me greatly. Freedom of Speech? To promote hate, division, discrimination? If your freedom of speech is used to threaten the freedom of others, then it's not freedom! I think you're truly barking at the wrong tree. Thing is, white, anglo-saxon, heterosexual, middle class people talking about the plight of minorities has always carried a bit of a contradiction to me. The impossibility to put yourself in another person's shoes who has suffered greatly because of discrimination renders any kind of opinion from anyone not in that position, irrelevant. What a waste.

Ewwww said:

Eww, you made me read The Australian.

Ewwww said:

Eww, you made me read The Australian.

Nick Cummins said:

Mark the say no to no campaign is simply about our industry coming together to pledge we wont be making communications like this.


I don't see how this is hypocritical or harmful to the yes vote. Maybe you don't have a problem with this kind of message being out in our community but I certainly do.

Ewwww said:

Eww, you made me read The Australian.

Wait - no you didn't. Stupid paywall.

Rolls eyes said:

This campaign isn't stifling debate. The anti-SSM side can still have communications and debate all they like. They just won't have our help. This is about not using our resources and skills in persuasion to spread hate. Makes total sense to me. Still not a fan of the general public debating human rights but it's apparently a thing now, so happy to see this idea. Good one Cummo

Ed said:

Hi Mark

I can't think of any scenario where it's morally acceptable for a society to vote on another human beings' rights

Still love you though.

I'd marry you.

Colin Jowell said:


I'm not sure I follow your logic. Say no to no takes a stand in the debate. Your response proves that. Hardly stifling - it's encouraging . Suggesting it shouldn't exist would be far more stifling, surely?

Tess said:

It's not a ban though - it's a group of professionals willingly refusing to lend their talents to persecuting and marginalising themselves, their family, friends, and/or colleagues.

Missing something said:

To all those who condemn Mark Ritson and anyone else who opposes the 'Say No to No' campaign, you're missing the point and hurting the 'Yes' cause.
Mark supports SSM. The vast majority of those who oppose the 'Say No to No' campaign also support SSM. Just like I support SSM.
Comments like Mark's are actually trying to help the Yes cause - by suggesting a more 'democratic' approach that doesn't label anyone and everyone who opposes SSM as bile, hurtful, bigots, or deny them the right to express their view, is more likely to create an environment where the 'persuadable can be persuaded'.
But, if you deny people the right to openly support a contrary position there is every likelihood that some people will vote 'No', not because they couldn't be persuaded to vote 'Yes' for SSM, but because the issue is no longer SSM, but, the right to free speech. And for many people free speech is as important as being free to marry whomever you wish. You cannot ask people to sacrifice one to support the other.
As Voltaire said so pointedly three centuries ago - "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it". The 'Say No to No' campaigners are fast turning this into a referendum on a person's right to hold an opinion, rather than the right for people to marry someone of the same sex. In effect, the 'Say No to No' campaign does the 'Yes' cause no favours.

@missing something said:

Please defend the right to say this...


...go on.

Can't wait to hear it.

Like ending apartheid or the White Australia Policay, this is not something that should need to be publicly "debated".

Scott Lawrie said:

Why do you bring up the tired old 'left/right' polemic in this? It's not about which side of politics you're on - it's about simple human rights. In any case, most same sex marriage legislation has been passed by traditionally right-wing parties - not 'lefties'. The reason there's a wholesale shift to passing the legislation is simply because it's the right thing to do.

Missing something is missing something said:

Mmmmmmm except 'Say no to no' isn't inhibiting free speech... the 'No' side can still speak freely. Take a look at the delightful 'Stop the fags' posters all around city. The campaign isn't suggesting they be censored, it's asking us to make an active decision not to help.

This whole campaign is about industry, within industry - it's largely not going to be seen by the 'No's apart from the people RUNNING the No campaigns, who are a whole lot less likely to be changing their minds anyhow.

Shanghai61 said:

The 'No' camp can and most certainly still have their say.

Communications professionals shouldn't be obliged to polish the language of their fear, hatred and bigotry if they don't want to.

Let these people and their arguments be judged by their own words.

Virtual Myth said:

As a person who opposes hateful, ignorant and misinformed marketing campaigns, I totally appreciate the “Say No to No” movement. It is providing another form of voice.

However, it is important to recognise and protect that the “voice” does not just become a “noise”. IMHO, Mark’s main point of view about the movement is perhaps valid and my takeaway from the article is to simply take heed. At least, that’s how I read the article. It is true that some of the result we want to happen in our society does not happen because of the polarised effect by many media activities. For example, isn’t that how/why Trump camp to power? (Which reminds me, I am still waiting for those celebs who “publicly supported” and claimed they will move out of the US if Trump wins). Again, noise versus voice are two different things which we as media professionals and as human beings sometimes are not able to differentiate and then we later wonder why people stopped listening and we lost the bloody cause. (Duh!)

Whilst Mark Ritson claims he supports the “Yes” vote, I don’t know him personally and I don’t really know (or care) what his political views are. And perhaps I am naive but reading the article does not make me believe he is a lefty or a righty. However, having read some of Mark’s work, all his materials and opinions have purely always been focused about marketing. This article is no exception and I did not even consider Mark is trying to convey that he is an expert on the topic other than the marketing angle and practice associated with that industry. After all, that is his profession.

With respect to people’s views, experiences and ultimately, the emotions about the LGBT in this country and in the world, please stay on point about what the article is truly about and VOICE your opinion about the topic in the right forum, otherwise, you are just a NOISE, and you’re not helping the cause you are fighting for. And before you turn green like the Hulk on this comment, I too belong to a second class minority so take a chill pill.

Missing something said:

Like 99.9% of the population I find the 'fag' posters disgusting. I wouldn't waste my time defending the indefensible.
May I suggest you read Virtual Myth's comment @3:54 for another POV on the dangers of 'Say No to No' campaign. I think his or her description of 'Noise vs Voice' is one worth heeding.
Once again, its worth reminding you, Mark Ritson, like myself, like Virtual Myth are all for a YES vote. We're just trying to remind people that if you shout down free speech you are in danger of turning the SSM vote in to a referendum on Free Speech - and that's the last thing I want as much as you.

CJA said:

I wonder what the reaction would be if there was a similar 'No' campaign!
And, what will happen if the 'No' vote wins. Will we see riots in the street; calls for a re-vote on the grounds of foreign interference, etc.
There is an uncomfortable swell of liberalism in the world today in which it's fine to think what you like as long as it's the same as them. Is that a world we truly want to live in, let alone propagate as marketers.

@CJA said:

I'm so with you.

Really disturbed by conservatism - genuine closed-minded conservatism - masquerading as liberalism. Real liberalism means having space for other's opinions, even if they're opposed to your own. Real liberalism is winning the opposition over by being the bigger person.

This 'think like me or you're a bigot' brigade are fooling themselves.

Genuine question said:

Even outside of an incendiary topic like SSM, which agency would ever publish hate speech on behalf of a client? I've never seen it happen, in 25 years in this industry. And the standards bureau would eat agency and client for breakfast. You all claim this isn't about silencing the No's, it's about preventing hate speech. Bullshit.

Get your heads out of your arses please. It's not agencies or clients putting disgusting posters up all over town.

This is first and foremost a publicity stunt by an agency riding the coat tails of a massively important and sensitive issue. Secondly, it's a slap in the face of free speech and honest open debate. And finally, it's an indication to all our clients that this industry only has its own interests at heart. We'll take your money, clients, but if we don't like your position on something, you're on your own.

I'm a yes voter. But a firm no on the No to No campaign.

Virtual Myth said:

@Genuine Question, I was trying to be polite by pointing out "voice versus noise" but I totally love your version and frankness. :) #sayithowitis

Missing something said:

Thank you @Genuine Question. I agree 100% - just didn't have the guts to be so forthright in my comments.

Elizabeth said:

Thank you, particularly re:
"While I appreciate the polite and respectful manner in which this request has so far been presented, I confess that the wholesale support not only for a Yes vote but for a blanket ban on working for the No campaign disturbs me greatly."

It is refreshing to read an article which appears balanced (as I can't ascertain your personal stance of either 'Yes' or 'No') but disappointed to see it assumed and you subsequently berated, that you support the ''No' lobby 'simply' because you've queried an internal advertising & marketing industry campaign where members are called to promote their personal opinions over and above professional ethics potentially robbing equal representation of both (all?) demographics of our society by the media with regard to this issue.

Traditionally media as a whole has been a mirror of Australian Society but now in my opinion, it's abusing its position by attempting to form a Cartel wherein it becomes an entity in itself dictating to society rather than reflecting it (as a whole).

I acknowledge Media has always been influenced by factors outside public awareness (rightly or wrongly) but I'm not aware of it previously turning on itself openly to partake in an action to name and shame its own (by omission) who do not support its majority current moral/social/political or legal stance?

In our society which is becoming obsessed with relying on advertising and media as its 'sole' provider of information, such an action further undermines 'fair & equal' social, political and legal debate.

I'm greatly surprised with the Yes/No vote that we (Australian society as a 'whole') are not more concerned with the sacrifice of unbiased journalism and national respect for our hard fought democratic processes than we are for attaining a 'win' at any cost (for whichever group). Thank you for the opportunity to comment.

Leave a comment