2007 - 2021

Cereal Abuse


Just who was behind the worst TV advert of the campaign that caused such a backlash from women across Scotland? Turns out it was Douglas Alexander ‘Labour strategy chief Douglas Alexander gets blame for ‘patronising’ TV ad backfiring’. The video by the company M&C Saatchi, who Alexander brought in to shape the campaign ‘was widely panned on social media and in advertising circles as patronising, sexist and insulting.’

Here Ariadne and Lizzie Cass-Maran unpack the prevalence of the language of abuse in the Better Together campaign.

After Better Together posted their now infamous campaign video, a friend on Twitter remarked on the prevalence of the language of abuse in their campaign, in particular in the video. On being called out to defend this accusation, we wrote the following. Quotes in italic are taken from the video.

What is the ‘language of abuse?’

First, it might be handy to define what ‘the language of abuse’ means. ‘Language’ is communication; it doesn’t boil down to simple vocabulary. It’s not the same thing as vocabulary of violence; it’s not saying ‘I’m gonny chib ya’. In fact, quite the opposite. The language of abuse is to do with emotional abuse, and blackmail. We trawled through a few articles online and used some of their common signs of emotional abuse to break down the video.

Degradation/treating an individual like a servant or child

A woman enters kitchen, and we discover she’s a housewife with the full burden of looking after the children and keeping the house tidy; so overworked that two minutes with a cup of tea is the highlight of her day. We are given the archetype of an oppressed, 1950s’ style housewife as Better Together’s idea of the ‘ordinary woman.’ They could have given us a professor, or a CEO, or an artist. But no.
There’s only so many hours in the day.

The message: You, the Scottish electorate (the target audience of this advert) have neither the time nor the brain power to fully understand the issues here.

Isolating behaviour

He [her husband] started again first thing this morning: Have you made a decision yet? I was like, ‘it’s too early to be discussing politics. Eat your cereal’.

The biggest political decision Scotland has had to make in centuries is being discussed on television and in her home. Her aggrieved tone suggests she is not happy about this. It’s breakfast, she has the opportunity to have an interesting conversation, but she shuts it down, with the only power she has in her arsenal: control over the cereal.

The message: Don’t engage. Don’t research. Keep yourself to yourself. DON’T GO OUTSIDE, IT’S DANGEROUS!


So he starts to ask the kids, I mean honestly, like he’ll get any sense out of them, they never have their heads out of their phones.

If these ‘kids’ have phones, and their Dad is trying to engage them in political discussion, they’re probably teenagers. 16-years-olds with the right to vote, perhaps? They could be seen as intelligent beings with the ability to control their own destiny, but we’re encouraged to think so little of them that the woman cannot begin to fathom why their father would want to discuss politics with them.

The message: The opinion of young people is worthless. Careful not to discuss it with them; they might use their vote.

Threats and intimidation

Most of all, I want what’s best for my children… There’s no way you can change your mind in four years’ time. They have to live with the decision I make. I suppose that’s why all this uncertainty bothers me so much.

Democracy is by its very nature unpredictable and uncertain. You want utter certainty all the time? Go and live in a dictatorship. Just try not to actually talk to anyone when you do, as people who live in fascist regimes tend to be terribly interested in politics and freedom for some reason.

The message: Just do what you’re told, or we’ll be after your family.

Name calling or insults/degradation

‘The guy off the telly’ is the democratically elected First Minister of Scotland and ‘Yeah right?’ isn’t a logical comeback in an argument.

The message: The main representatives of the Yes campaign are unworthy of even being named and certainly not of being listened to. Half an ear on the telly is probably all the research the electorate’s puny little brain can cope with. You’re too stupid to be having this discussion anyway.

Withholding important information

Or in this case, encouraging the electorate to not seek such information.

There’s not much time left for me to make a decision, but there’s only so many hours left in the day… The more I think about it, the more independence seems like one big gamble, like it’s not been thought through.

Spending two minutes to think about it, without looking at any facts or figures, she concludes that the slow process of devolution over the last 15 years, leading to the referendum on whether we’d like to assume full financial control over our stuff has been a total thoughtless car crash.

The message: Don’t use your limited time to research this important issue. It’s not like The White Paper, and reliable, independent resources like The Financial Times, the Economist, etc are easily available online. Stay in the kitchen.

Making someone fear that they will not receive the food or care they need

So you can rely on oil for everything can you? Your kid’s school, our local hospital, mum and dad’s pension?… I’ve heard plenty of promises, but straight answers? They seem a little bit harder to come by… If there’s one thing I do know, I will not be gambling with my children’s future… So that’ll be a no from me.

She’s not looking at any facts as to whether oil will pay for anything, or even whether that’s what people claim. Google will give her stats on how much oil is out there, and what percentage it will contribute to an independent economy. She might also like to look at other money makers in Scotland, such as whisky, food, tourism and finance, or investigate Scotland’s pioneering eco-friendly alternatives to oil and projections for how much of our energy will be made like that in future, and what other political parties are looking at doing if Scotland becomes independent.
There’s no actual logic behind her final decision; just ‘I don’t know; I’m too scared’

The message: If you care about your family, you’ll vote No. We have their pensions.

Telling an individual that they are too much trouble

Or in this case, that their plans are too much trouble.

Time to get to work.

They doubtless mean that as a metaphor for ‘Let’s build a better country, together’, but all we’re left with is the bleak knowledge that she’ll return to her ironing, subjugated and hopeless, leaving her husband to do all the thinking while she stomps as hard as she can on her children’s ability to think critically for themselves because she never learned how and doesn’t intend to start.

The message: Stop thinking you can possibly try to assert control over your own future.

The woman in the kitchen is not a fully realised human being, but an offensive caricature of what Better Together thinks a woman is. It is an insult to intelligent, engaged women in other sectors, and it is especially insulting to women who do look after their children all day, because those women are not stupid, they are not too weak, cowed or stubborn to debate and have robust conversations, and they are certainly not so mean that they don’t understand the importance of getting children thinking and talking about weighty topics which affect their future.
First published at http://bit.ly/cereal-abuse and edited by the authors for print

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  1. Grant says:

    I never want to hear Douglas Alexander speak about being Scottish ever again. He sold has sold his birth right, shame on him.

  2. Maggie Craig says:

    Wonderful deconstruction of this woeful ad. Thank you.

    1. benmadigan says:

      Did something similar in a shortened form here
      Apart from the comments/videos on the Patronising Lady – please do take the time to listen to what the Americal journalist has to say!!!Well worth spreading around

  3. Clootie says:

    I appreciated his help 😀

    I have a feeling that the agency didn’t want to go with this and he pushed it through. I cannot accept that a modern successful agency in advertising came up with this.

  4. jmttrialPhil says:

    This video will live in infamy, for years, in university Communications course seminar rooms.

    Thankfully the actual woman we see acting has not (in my knowledge) been personally derided. That should be saved for Messers Alexander and Saatchi.

    1. rabthecab says:

      I’ve already asked that it be discussed in my media course as a prime example of how *not* to do it. 🙂

  5. Auld Rock says:

    Clootie, given what has come out of advertising agencies in recent years this is no surprise. Clootie do you know if Saatchi were responsible for dreadful ad this week about WW1 & 2?

    Auld Rock

  6. Axel Koehler says:

    So the advert was by Saatchi? Is beag an t-ìoghnadh mar sin cho mosach ‘s a bha e air boireannaich – little surprise it was so sexist, then: one who would strangle one’s lady in a public place would have no respect for other women, either…and possibly, people like the Saatchis do not even regard Scots as fellow human beings. In addition to the Nigella Lawson trial, they would deserve many another charge!!

  7. Les Wilson says:

    Brillant take down of the crap offerred. Alexander is , urm, a wee worm!

  8. barakabe says:

    The advert is utter garbage, we all know that- but the real issue ought to be why Better Together keep hammering their “know yer place” message down on the heads of the already no-converted- what kind of strategy is that? This whole BT campaign, with a limitless budget behind it, an uncritical colossal British media machine endlessly siphoning out its propaganda, & the networked support of a super rich/powerful establishment supporting it, has been such a rank & abysmal failure- the British Establishment are truly incompetent on an epic scale- that to me is a frightening thought, when so many Scots are prepared to hand over their sovereignty by voting no; especially when we know how ideologically at odds the rest of the UK is to Scotland, but what is more terrifying is just how ineffectual these incompetent ideologues actually are: the whole game is stacked in their favour & yet they are still struggling to win.

  9. seanair says:

    Wee Dougie has “form” in putting women down. Ask his sister!

    1. Adam Neilson says:

      Add the acrylic hair/wig, the Holywood smile, and the Stepford Wives attitude towards women, and he becomes an automatic candidate for the Tea Party.
      All that’s missing is the ‘I’m a Christian’ … Oh wait ….

  10. Robert Graham says:

    i really wish interviewers would get a grip of this we turds mouth when he is being allowed to froth off at the mouth he simply cant sit still and let the other opposing interviewee have a word he cant be quiet for more than 10 seconds my advise is after his first interruption nail him listen sonny you have never done a meaning full productive job so you listen and we might just ask your opinion on what has been said ok got it ? then we will continue if that’s OK with you OK thank you

  11. If Better Together has, as Lamont claimed, come across women like this, then it’s the Labour Party that over decades has turned them into unthinking drudges. Families thrilled to voting Labour, uncritically believing that this should continue to the end of time. Thank goodness many people from Labour families who stay in fortress Labour areas are now prising open eyes and ears and taking the decision to vote Yes.

    1. Dean Richardson says:

      it’s the same everywhere the dead hand of Labour goes. They’ve been dumbing down our schools and creating a welfare-dependent ‘under-class’ for decades. Proud working-class people who hold down useful jobs, have stable, relatively prosperous lives (certainly more prosperous than their parents), can think for themselves, and are generally an asset to society and the economy, are the last thing Labour wants. They have just the same attitude towards us working-class people as the Tories, even if their methods are different.

  12. Fed up with the lies and propaganda of the London Media Industrial Complex says:

  13. Fed up with the lies and propaganda of the London Media Industrial Complex says:


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