Gaping Gaps in Communications
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 24 Apr 1969, p. 287-298
Goodis, Jerry, Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
Communications. The overuse of the term. Problems of stereotyping. The difficulty of communicating, and listening. An exploration of this topic with many anecdotes and examples, in many different parts of our society. Learning to listen.
Date of Original
24 Apr 1969
Language of Item
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The speeches are free of charge but please note that the Empire Club of Canada retains copyright. Neither the speeches themselves nor any part of their content may be used for any purpose other than personal interest or research without the explicit permission of the Empire Club of Canada.
Empire Club of Canada
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Fairmont Royal York Hotel

100 Front Street West, Floor H

Toronto, ON, M5J 1E3

Full Text
APRIL 24, 1969
Gaping Gaps in Communications
CHAIRMAN The President, Edward B. Jolliffe, Q.C.


Our guest today is known to friend and foe as a man who speaks his mind. He has been called everything from a creative genius to an irresponsible radical. Although often a critic of business he is a spectacular success in the business of his choice. The advertising agency he founded and leads has among its clients a bank, a brewery, a distillery, a food company and a shoe manufacturer to mention only a few. The creative work of his firm wins many awards; his own outspoken words command attention.

We welcome here today Mr. Jerry Goodis, founder and President of Goodis, Goldberg and Soren.


Mr. President, distinguished head table guests, gentlemen: The topic today is communications and I, like you I expect, am heartily sick of the word. It was an important word once, but all real meaning has been sucked out of it now through the incessant chatter of management consultants, fund-raisers and political speech-writers. So I will try not to use it too often today.

For better or for worse, 1 am in the communications business. And professional communicators are taught to study their audiences. So, before I came here today, I went to see that Expert on Everything, the man-in-the-street.

"Tell me about Empire Club members," I said.

He was very helpful. He explained that you all are compulsive coupon clippers. You gleefully grind the faces of the poor and constantly complain about creeping socialism. You wear striped trousers, drive two-year-old Oldsmobiles and fly the Red Ensign on your front lawns. You all look like a combination of George Hees and Robert Winters. You believe that all poets are fags, except, of course, Rudyard Kiplin. And your President, he said, is invariably a right-wing conservative. All these virtues in total, he explained, ensure that the sun never will set on The Empire Club of Canada.

You know all about me, of course. I am an advertising man. An advertising man is always six feet tall, handsome, with strong black hair which, when he is fifty, miraculously turns steel-grey overnight. He wears a grey flannel suit and grey flannel underwear. He also has a grey flannel tongue which is why, when his client's sales go down, he labels it a "reverse upward trend." He calls art directors "baby," and finds his best ideas in the bottom of a martini glass. He knows that a good advertisement is one his client approves. He has callouses on the inside of his knees, because they knock together whenever the client calls.

So! We both know each other and therefore we can communicate. It is only a coincidence that the few Empire Club members I know individually are totally different from the rest of you. And any advertising men you know may be different from those I have described. That only proves there are a few good apples in every barrel.

Enough. The point I'd like to make today is this: The stereotyping of people makes it difficult for us to talk to each other. I believe that talking is a good thing and that listening is even more useful. I'm not suggesting, as sourheads do, that our society's problems will all miraculously disappear if only we learn to communicate. (There's that word again.) But I am suggesting that, without honest talking and careful listening, we cannot define the problems. And that's what I want to emphasize today: that our society has problems; that we need to communicate to define them; that we cannot communicate if we view people as stereotypes; and that we cannot talk meaningfully to anybody about anything unless first learn to listen. Is it just as simple as that? No, it is as difficult as that. Because it is hard to listen, and it is harder still to discard stereotypes.

We all cloud our thinking with stereotypes. Most of us are sophisticated enough to reject the obviously pernicious variety: of Negroes, or Catholics, or Jews, or French Canadians, or Orangemen. But do we also reject the new stereotypes: of student radicals, of "Hippies," of dissenters?

Not everyone does. Last week, Patrick Scott of the Toronto Star reviewed a CBC show on violence. Participants included ministers, leaders of the Indian community, a rabbi, students, pacifists and Quakers, and the like. Scott labelled them all, quote, "poseurs, provocateurs, malcontents and retards, all purporting to hold the salvation of mankind in their grubby little hands," unquote. He also called them "birdbrains and misfits."

That's not comment, that's abuse. That's bigotry. That's jaundiced journalism. Not only bad journalists resort to such biased reactions. When Prime Minister Trudeau was picketed in Calgary two weeks ago, Mayor Leslie promptly complained of "professional agitators and anarchists from eastern universities." He hinted that the police might have to check up on the people involved. He makes our students seem as dangerous as those "agents of Moscow" they used to quiver about so much in the 1950s, during the McCarthy era.

Sure, some young dissenters who disturb Mayor Leslie's sleep spout the quotations of Chairman Mao from his famous "little red book." The kids are welcome to Mao and his quotations. They are the only Chinese product I've found harder to digest than Moo Goo Guy Pan. May I refer at this point to The Empire Club's own "little red book" of rather longer quotations? This book explains that the Club's purpose is "to promote the interests of Canada and the British Commonwealth." Your work, it says, "has a distinctive basis of British unity."

Jolly good. In this menacing year of the Anguilla revolt I say: "Thank God for British unity." Because without it we might have lost Anguilla: The Gibraltar of the Caribbean. What a blow to the Empire that would have been! You understand, Anguilla protects the strategic island of Virgin Gorda. Heaven forbid that foreigners should ever assault Virgin Gorda. However, the Empire was saved. I can hardly wait until J. Arthur Rank makes a movie about it. I can just see John Mills and Peter Finch bravely storming the beach to be met by two little old ladies with machetes mounted on Mark II armoured swayback donkeys. Oh, Kipling. Where are you now that we really need you!

As you can see, I'm not here as a spokesman for Harold Wilson, or Cecil Rhodes. Nor, may David Ogilvy smite me down, am I here as a spokesman for advertising. Then why am I here? Because I think more businessmen should speak out in public. Mind you, we don't ever want to hear a Chamber of Commerce President rant predictably, again and again, about "creeping socialism" and "government waste." Speeches like don't communicate because nobody listens. Businessmen should speak out in public about how they plan to make our economic system work more equitably. For everyone.

I am a businessman. I am a capitalist, I guess. But that doesn't stop me from seeing flaws in our private enterprise system. I see flaws in advertising too. I speak out against them because, failing to expose them, will only compound them.

And, frankly, it's for my own self-preservation too.

Look, when an insulting commercial spews in to my neighbour's living-room, I'm suspect at that moment. She thinks I did it because I'm an adman.

All architects and engineers were suspect when the Union Carbide Building on Eglinton Avenue fell down.

When the doctor left the clamp in that poor unfortunate lady at the East General, all doctors were suspect at that moment.

And I often feel as Toronto Aldermen must feel every time Mayor Dennison opens his mouth to welcome a foreign dignitary to our city.

I think advertising is heading into serious trouble and it might drag many of you with it if the Government clamps control over our industry.

Advertising is in trouble because much of it treats human beings as stereotypes. The classic stereotype is "the housewife," a faceless dumb person whose biggest preoccupations in life are the whiteness of her wash, smears on her windows and hidden creepies in her toilet bowl.

To communicate with dumb people you write dumb copy. Many admen show talent for that. Witness that 60second TV spectacular about the bride whose daddy has dandruff. Fortunately, they kill the dandruff in time for him to give the bride away. Does the quivering maiden then head into the arms of her beloved? Hell no. First things first. She takes daddy in her arms and dramatically declares: "We made it, thanks "to Head and Shoulders." Daddy then responds with a line that will go echoing down the corridors of time: "I haven't lost a daughter. I've gained a dandruff remover."

Shareholders' money paid for that commercial. And shareholders' money created such Procter and Gambolian monsters as "Josephine the Plumber"; "The Man from Glad"; and that man-made natural disaster "The White Tornado."

Admen who produce such trash won't recognize that housewives are their wives and your wife and my wife. I know that my wife is not dumb, and I'm sure your wives resent being treated like intellectual pygmies.

Condescending commercials do get a message through: the wrong one. They tell Canadian women loud and clear that some businessmen are self-inflated, opportunistic, misguided misogynists. My Funk and Wagnall says a misogynist is a woman-hater.

It's not good to have your customers think so poorly of you. We ought to know that by now.

Four years ago, the cost-of-living gave another predictable lurch. We are faced with the housewives' revolt. Remember? Before you could say "ten-cents-off," a Parliamentary Committee was holding public hearings to learn who had got the shoppers up in arms.

The Committee found that manufacturers and retailers were operating quite fairly and efficiently. But the women said to themselves, and maybe to us, if we were listening: "Efficiency phooey. That's not the problem. They're treating us like Little Orphan Annies. They're Lucky Green Stamping us into the poorhouse."

So Ottawa tried again. This time it setup the Department of Consumer Affairs. And even then, some marketing men did not get the message. Now the Department named names. One was Colgate-Palmolive. Its "Halo" shampoo bottle advertised a $1.49 special price, implying a sale. What's wrong with that? Only that the label had been saying "special price" for two years. Some special. Some sale!

And Mother Parker's instant coffee had been carrying a label saying "thirty cents off regular price" for seven months. What, pray tell, is the regular price off which the thirty cents is off?

Women have been complaining about such tactics for years. But we have not listened. We all resist listening to people from other groups. When a man has spent half a lifetime creating his own comfortable view of the world, he doesn't want it disturbed at this late stage by anything that doesn't fit the pattern. That's why so many of us insultingly label young people with long hair and beards as "hippies."

Why do we pin such labels on them? I think I know why. It's the "Lamport Syndrome." "Hippies" threaten our view of the world because they seem to get by without working. We have worked hard, so they should work hard too. Right? Our prejudice is understandable. We all grew up under the Protestant Ethic. Yes, even those of us who are White-Anglo-Saxon Jews.

Instead of listening to "hippies," we yak at them. Our idea of communication is to preach to them about the Great Depression. We resent the fact that they were born into prosperous times, like it's their fault.

But is the world we are handing them all that great? Prosperous it is--for some. But it is also a world in which business makes profits by manufacturing napalm and spends millions to persuade young people to smoke, knowing that some of them might get cancer as a result.

By the time today's toddler reaches kindergarten, he has already experienced, via television, brutal inexplicable wars, fires, floods, presidential assassinations, 3-day ritualistic funerals for ex-presidents and other disasters. He has wandered in a dream world with puppets, identified with cardboard heroes in a phony fraudulent history of the "Wild West." Fifteen hundred times a day he has received commercial messages from our world and they preach materialism first, materialism last and materialism always. Can he possibly absorb such an all-enveloping mixture of terrifying truth and nonsensical fiction and still hold strong beliefs in our system?

I for one welcomed with glee the news of the formation of Senator Keith Davey's Senate Committee to examine the performance and ownership of Canadian media.

Today's kids feel differently about some things. They tried to tell us, calmly enough at first, and when we wouldn't listen, they grew their hair and their beards simply to put an exclamation point at the end of their message. Yet, we still look at our young rebels and see the wrong things, while hearing nothing. We see hair and beards and dirty necks.

I think they're trying to tell us something we've known all along but keep trying to forget: that our society has weaknesses. Of course it has weaknesses. It has great strengths, too. It still has the strength to let these very kids protest. Mace and police billies are very nasty but Russian tanks in the streets of Prague are one hell of a lot nastier. We ought to remind our kids of that--if we can ever make contact with them again! Meantime we are not in Prague, we're in Toronto, and it is our kids who are saying that our society can be more "Just" than it is.

Lots of people tell us our society has flaws. We don't listen to them, either. Last week Tim Reid, a politician, reminded us loud and clear that the poor, the old, the sick, the disabled, the slum teenagers, the deserted mothers, the Indians and the Eskimos, are all outcasts of their grossly affluent society. It baits them and taunts them at every step. We tuned his message out too. Well, we say, he's exaggerating. He's a politician. He has an axe to grind. But the Dominion Bureau of Statistics says the same thing. And so does the Economic Council of Canada. "Poverty in Canada is real," says the E.C.C., "and its numbers are not in the thousands but in the millions . . . it is more than our society can tolerate." Tuesday's Toronto Daily Star carried a banner front page story headed "One in five Canadians in Poverty Says Economic Council."

We do not feel such truth in our bones. We don't want to. But for some of us, it finally sinks home when our sons and daughters, those very kids we have loved and fussed over quit their jobs or leave school. They cop out. They stop washing their necks. They may be saying to us "We'll start washing our necks when you stop washing our brains . . . ."

People in power have always been frightened of real communication because it breaks down social and economic barriers. That is why South Africa still doesn't have television. It's why the U.S. television networks smothered "The Smothers Brothers." It is maybe why the Granite Club doesn't speak to the Primrose Club, and the Primrose Club doesn't speak back. It would be suitable in this time of the so-called "communications gap" for those two anachronisms to merge and move out to North York together. They could call their new place "The Granite Primrose," stony flower of tolerance and togetherness.

The under-privileged of this society will soon come to believe that only dramatic or violent action will make us listen. For fifty years, small-1 liberals mouthed mealy-mouthed platitudes about how things were going to get better for the Blacks. Patience they said. For fifty years the intolerable conditions of the Black community were ignored by the white majority. It's taking riots and burning and killing to put the exclamation mark at the end of that message. So while "White Tornadoes" clean the walls of America's kitchens, Black Tornadoes assault the walls of America's prejudice and hate.

So you think that it can't happen here? Well, the Black Panthers have moved into Halifax. We've known for many years how bad the situation is there. And what about French-speaking Canadians? For ninety years we did not listen to them. Even though they were carefully and patiently telling us their grievances. When did we start to listen? When some bombs exploded. When some people were killed.

Even within our own corporations we have not learned to listen. In a society struggling to become truly democratic, authoritarianism hangs on like some unquestioned truth. We senior executives have plus sanctuaries on the highest floor of this city's new skyscrapers. What do we see from our private wombs-with-a-view? What do we hear in these hushed inner offices? Are we big shots by design, cutting ourselves off from the little shots? Are we scared of the men below so to speak? If so, is this because we're always so busy talking to them we don't stop long enough to hear what they have to say? Those fancy surroundings of ours are often merely broadloomed abbatoirs where new, fresh and daring ideas get slaughtered.

Entrenched corporations and entrenched trade unions have long sneered at academics for living in ivory towers. Universities are now violently learning they cannot survive as academic ivory towers. We had better dismantle our ivory towers too.

There is a revolution underway, but don't call the Redcoats. It is not a Marxist revolution. No one is going to burn down the Peace Tower or storm the new City Hall. These days the techniques of protest are far more creative than that. Some youngsters at a Toronto high school recently decided to protest school policy. They were sharing their decision with a friend of mine. "Aha," he said, "I suppose you will get committees organized, make some placards, stage a sit-in, present a petition?" They looked at him blankly. "No," they said, "we just thought we'd all take our clothes off."

How will you fight revolutionaries like that? Turn up the air conditioning?

Down deep we know that these movements and stirrings are a conscientious attempt to get democracy to finally work in this vibrant and rewarding North America. Can we not grasp, we who have power and privilege, that the underprivileged and the under-powered, our French-speaking brothers, our Indians, our Eskimos, even our own sons and daughters simply want a real say in their future.

We don't have a free democracy yet because we holders of power are reluctant to share it. We can have a democracy. We have enough wealth. We have the media if we use them for real healthy, honest, democratic communication. But there can be no real understanding without real listening. In a democracy that works, no group has to put bombs in a mailbox, loot a city or destroy a computer to get people in power to listen.

I don't condone such violent techniques. We can learn to listen without them. But I do fear that things are going to get worse before they get better. What are we men of power going to do about it? Hide deeper in our executive suites and our luncheon clubs? Will we in advertising jam people's ears with further layer upon layer of fatuous claptrap?

I'm not sure. We can't find solutions until we know the problems. We cannot know the problems until we start communicating. We cannot communicate until we first learn to LISTEN.

So I think learning to listen is part of the start of the answer. But, of course, I'm no expert. Perhaps there are no experts in this field. Which would be strange because these days we seem to be surrounded by experts on everything. Which reminds me of an enterprising fish dealer in a little fish market. He had been doing quite well, but felt that some promotion would help him do even better. So he painted a sign outside his store. It read: "Fresh Fish Sold Here."

The sign hadn't been up five minutes when one of his long-time customers came in and said "So you've got a new sign up. But why the word 'fresh'? Goes without saying your fish are fresh, otherwise they'd smell bad."

"True," said the dealer, and painted out the offending word "fresh."

Another five minutes, another customer, who was also an expert. "What do you need the word 'here' for?" this one asked. "You think people will believe you're advertising fish sold in a store somewhere else?"

"You're right," said the fish dealer. So out with the brush again to paint over the word "here."

The next expert wasn't long in coming. "You've got a new sign up," he commented. "But the word 'sold'--does any fish dealer give them away?"

Out came the brush and the third word was obliterated. As the dealer was climbing down from the ladder, an onlooker said, "Mister. You don't need the sign saying 'fish' outside your store. You can smell them six blocks away."

So I climbed back up the ladder, painted out the word "fish," climbed back down and padlocked the door. And I opened an advertising agency.

Thank you for being such courteous--and I stress the word--listeners.

Thanks of the meeting were expressed by H. Ian Macdonald.

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Gaping Gaps in Communications

Communications. The overuse of the term. Problems of stereotyping. The difficulty of communicating, and listening. An exploration of this topic with many anecdotes and examples, in many different parts of our society. Learning to listen.