The Power of Prejudice

Forget Superbowl commercials, this week I want to talk about an antique, or perhaps maybe a relic from the 1980’s.

The whole backbone of the advert is that we are fending off an invasion from Europe and Japan; very reminiscent of and riding off the common attitudes towards the Second World War, that we ‘gave Jerry a royal kick up the back side!’

This advert rolls on the theme of British protectionism combined with a bit of ‘we won the war’, at a time when vehicle imports and pan European trading were heating up the competition for British Leyland. We hear the iconic ‘Rule Britannia’ playing as this band of Metro’s pass across highway and through village, adding value to everything we equate with our traditional past.

We also see iconic celebrities of the day; Arthur Lowe from ‘Dad’s Army’ saluting the car, on the backdrop of the union flag. We see a cheerful senior citizen waving her handkerchief from the window, reminiscent of the glorious homecomings of our military at the end of the war.

Now let us consider the psychology used for a moment. I would imagine that this advert was successful. It has emotional significance, so it would be memorable, and it would gain the favour of it’s audience. It is also demonstrative of the car’s functions (that it has lots of space and good fuel consumption).

Psychologically this would all be very effective, but is what they did right?

In a recent interview with Margaret Heffernan on wilful blindness, she explains how today’s press and media feed our established prejudices to affect our behaviour. This certainly influences peoples’ actions, however it does so on a very shallow, improperly though through level. Ultimately, this is what the Metro advert does. We the British were very prejudiced after the war, and have been slow to warm to our European neighbours. This feeds that prejudice to motivate people to buy a British car over a French, Italian or German one. It sent the message that a British car would not just be good, but it would protect British workers and culture.

The irony that confirms all this is that the Metro was one of Leyland’s most notoriously hideous cars. Their reliability was bad enough, but the rust and corrosion meant that in a short space of time most of them landed in the scrap yard. On the other hand, Renault, VW, Fiat and Nissan are all big global players today. The ‘British car to rule the world’ was clearly more based on emotion than hard premise.