U de M’s Controversy Over a 1.6-Second Kiss

By Hawk Vice President and Creative Director, François Giroux

Sixteen years ago, I designed a series of posters for a New Brunswick university as part of an identity launch. The black and white posters, shot in the style of a Calvin Klein ad, featured extreme close-ups of male and female students sporting a tattoo of the University’s new logo on their bodies. The creative adopted a visual language that the students could relate to; it was dark and somewhat sexy and the tattoo idea demonstrated school pride and commitment (perhaps a modern version of the pennant.) Soon, students were taking the posters off the campus building walls and putting them in their dorm rooms.

But some just couldn’t get behind a campaign that did not specifically and directly talk about the ‘quality of education’ or show happy students with books. Some of the faculty organized a debate about the appropriateness of the posters. Media got involved, and well… Here we are again, sixteen years later with another controversy, this time about a kiss, and another university advertisement that doesn’t “fit the mold.”

1.6 seconds. That’s the length of the kiss in Université de Moncton’s new commercial. The spot has gotten an exaggerated amount of media attention because it features a male and female student sneaking a kiss in the university library. I think I even saw a bit of tongue, what do you think?

1.6 seconds is the length of time I thought this controversy would last when I first saw the video. After all, it’s ONE vignette amongst a series of at least twenty showing a slice of life at U de M. Pretty tame on the morality meter in my humble opinion, but I’m no authority figure on the subject.

The message of the spot (somewhat lost in the controversy) is quite important and cleverly crafted around the word ‘langue’ (language) which also means ‘tongue’ in French. It’s obviously directed towards a francophone audience ­– presumably Acadians – whose post-secondary options consist of primarily English universities and colleges. In case you missed it, the spot makes a case for the French language being one to be proud of – it’s the language of progress, ambition, science, business and… other business (that’s when the tongue comes into play). In other words, choosing to study ‘en français’ will not limit you.

The president of the university’s professors’ and librarians’ association called the spot “pathetic,” claiming that its tonality is that of a beer ad. Others less critical have said that the spot, now known as ‘The Kiss Spot,’ failed to mention the ‘quality of education.’

In actuality, the U de M commercial is about quality education. But it’s also about more. It’s about the complete experience! It adopts a confident (even defiant tone) while the visuals feature driven students in various academic, sports, cultural and yes, social settings. It says loud and clear that you can be successful and fulfilled studying in your own language, at a university you can call your own.

Plus it celebrates the uniqueness of the Atlantic region by closing with a wonderful shot featuring a small group of students gathered at the beach for a bonfire, complete with beer cooler. (But let’s be real here, September to April, when most classes are in session, isn’t really prime beach-going weather—alas, the spot’s only ‘miss’ for me.)

In the end, the message this commercial conveys is not too different from the tattoo example mentioned above. Both exhibit symbols of pride and belonging. It’s really too bad that all of this is being lost over a debate about beer and a French kiss, both of which, I will remind you, are usually good things.

Posted on January 23, 2015 .