Playing war

Like most boys my age, I spent a good deal of my childhood playing war. So why do I find these Matchbox ads so troubling?

569tank_0_0.jpg - Playing war - 1573

Like most boys my age, I spent a good deal of my childhood playing war. So why do I find these Matchbox ads so troubling?

The campaign comes from Ogilvy & Mather Singapore and has just been uploaded to our Feed section by the agency. The three ads each depict a young boy in charge of some military hardware: a tank (above), fighter jet or helicopter.

Perhaps it’s the exhausted, dull-eyed look on the boys’ faces that does it, or the fact that war in these times of Iraq and Afghanistan and dozens of other regional conflicts, is very real and very deadly. Or maybe it’s just that I’m a grown-up with a son of my own. But the last thing these ads make me want to do is go out and buy toys that would encourage my son to see himself in the same situations as depicted here.

  • Cut to open box and disappointed kid .

  • I totally agree with your view, but then I’m a person who believes that working for peace is slightly better than planning for war.

    The kid in the plane does have a dead look to his eyes, but maybe that’s because killing people as part of your job is hardly a life fulfilling role, unless of course you really like the idea of killing people that you don’t even know, (in which case you probably need to see a psychiatrist not be handed a weapon).

    Maybe, rather than discussing the design aesthetics of designing box graphics for plastic models of killing machines, we should be discussing why it is still acceptable to encourage children play at killing each other and other people.

  • A combination of bad briefing, bad taste, bad directing, bad execution..

  • Isn’t this that Lego ad that won D&AD a while ago, only much much worse?

    If they trained a child to fly a high-speed jet that would be interesting, but this is stupid.

  • Murray

    > ‘killing people as part of your job is hardly a life fulfilling role’

    Is that as opposed to repeatedly encouraging children to believe that Coca-cola will give them a spectacular life, or branding to coerce women to believe that their bodies aren’t up to scratch?

    > ‘plastic models of killing machines’

    are better than kids running around with knives, not least for the fact – here! – that it is actually creative.

    Carry on chin-scratching for peace, Michael.

  • elias Ressegatti

    what’s the product they are advertising for?
    maybe there is some peace idea behind. otherwise it’s an incredible fail…

    keep us posted.

  • I don’t know, maybe there’s more of an opportunity here than you’d think.

    What next?

    Florence Nightingale Barbie. Body bag Action man or Airfix body parts – make your own suicide bomber.

  • Ed Wright

    @Elias, Matchbox make scale model toys, cars, planes, etc –

    I think the ads are a pretty good idea that exaggerate the immersion and imagination that you get playing with toys – I used to bomb the crap out the carpet when I was boy.

    However, using machines of conflict (and/or peacekeeping, Michael) should have been dropped in favour of, say, a F1 racing driver or Red Arrows pilot, which are just as cool and less contentious.

  • Nick Tennear

    They should of used some real child soldiers from Sri Lanka or Uganda, that would have kicked ass…

    Wouldn’t it?

    What a howler.

  • mark

    in my experience the direction they have taken is completely wrong

    it’s the sort of idea that someone would suggest, yet would never seriously consider as it would be in such bad taste

    i have no idea how Matchbox expect to sell anything with such poor execution from Oglivy Mather

  • wilderbeast

    hey its not just kids that like pretending to kill each other. Anyone played Gears of War or Call of Duty lately?

  • A.C. General

    Interesting and thought-provoking. I don’t think for a moment it will make children go out and buy more war toys, so in that respect it’s undoubtedly a failure. However as a comment on modern culture it’s very sharp. Dead-eyed children amusing themselves in an absolutely non-creative way, passing the time in a fantasy world, which in the future he may well be exposed to for real. Depressingly accurate. Now pass me the PS-3 controller. No, not the radio control for the MQ-9 killer drone, the other one. Boom! Bang! Die, Muthas!

  • Jon

    The glorifying of war should not be aimed at children for the purposes of making a profit.

  • the message is “this is not a game”

  • Dan Elliott

    I think it’s more a statement about how realistic their toy products are. What ever possessed someone to believe it was a good idea needs to read the news a whole lot more. Bad taste.

  • I agree with you. I think that the realism of the ads is the problem. As you stated you “played war” when you were a kid. This doesn’t look like playing at all. This brings home the reality that it’s our children that are going to war. This looks like an anti-war campaign much more that a toy ad.

    Great thought provoking post. Thanks.

  • Peter Southworth

    Busy watching Sky news in Cape Town, S.A. They’re showing the funeral of five British soldiers who died in Afghanistan. At the same time looking at the Matchbox ADS. Not sure there’s much romance in the real thing.So why associate yourself with it.

  • @ Jon, followed your link. Great point, well delivered.

    Playing soldiers is one of the child pleasures because you don’t know the reality of it. Matchbox is a cool brand, the work that falls out of it should be cool and encourage that sense of wonder at the machinery, not its purpose.

    You play with a plane because it flies, goes fast, would feel mint to pilot, and makes explosions. You don’t play with a plane to kill people – you don’t even really know what ‘kill’ means.

    However, idea by Gordon is much cooler i think, as Ed writes, it is the immersion of a child’s imagination that is the insight. Why not have matchbox provide a bunch of prizes to take winning kids for a day out in a jet or drive a tank. Take them out in the machines that matchbox replicate, but certainly don’t do it in dusty battlegrounds, the bad taste is the painfully close link to current world affairs. Doing a tank driving day in kent for a few lucky winners and a documentary of it thrown in for a mini site is much less threatening.

  • ed smart

    Er… hello – salveing your conscience, Mr Burgoyne? Why not just cut to the chase and say they’re obscene. Why even bother reporting it if you’re not going to intellectually engage with the issue you yourself have presented.
    Cheap Copy Out Of Other People’s Misery. Communication is not about fashion models or typography or illustration or selling s++t to debtors – it’s about taking a lead on moral stances that impact us all through tv, papers, media. Your analysis on airfix armageddon is well past it’s sell-by date – I got the point of this kind of propaganda junk 30 years ago as a 14 year old – why have you just discovered it?

  • I wonder how it would look (and be perceived…) if the planes were flying over the dining room table, the helicopters taking off of the living room carpet and the tank sitting in between the toilet and the sink.

  • @Billy Carey – I totally agree. If the scenarios in which the child and tank/helicopter/plane were more akin to the environments you would expect to find Matchbox toys, then the idea may have been less close to the bone.

  • Haggis

    What a bunch of PC tossers, boys love to pretend to blow shit up with model tanks, planes, choppers – I sure as shit did. So this campaign would be great if it wasn’t for the fact that it is a direct copy of the multi-award winning campaign that showed boys driving classic muscle cars – for the same client.
    Another attempt by Ogilvy singapore to scam some awards.

  • mauro

    To me it works more like an anti-war campaign…

  • steve

    Looks like some ones been at the copier again. This campaign has been done before with the kids in the cars.

  • Aero

    Next, I just picture ‘BRATZ’ ads with 4 year olds spinning on poles while wearing 5 inch glass heels.

  • Hm. Apart from the moral sense of it, I wonder what kids who see these ads will think? And what will their fathers (whom I presume are the ones holding the cash) think? Last time I checked kids didn’t have a lot of cash to spend. It all gets very complicated once you start contemplating where these ads would really fit in?

    Disclaimer: I probably spent the better part of my childhood playing war (unless there were girls present, girls are much more interesting than sticks and old helmets!), but now I’m a card carrying pacifist. Go figure.

  • I have to say I don’t see what all the fuss is about.

    So you have a boy pictured flying a plane, a boy sitting on a tank and another boy flying a helicopter. What’s so morally wrong with these images? These images don’t glamorise war… they simply are as i described.
    What’s wrong with a kid aspiring to be a pilot in the RAF or a soldier anyway?

    The only thing I’d change about the images is I’d make it look like they were enjoying themselves… I bet the only reason they didn’t do this in the first place was because they were scared of getting reactions like the ones on this blog post.

  • nice work! to kids these ads are cool. all kids get used to the packaging delivering more than the inside of the box; think of all those model airplane kits! they always over promised. Never stopped boys buying them when the lid was flipped!
    when you’re a kid, this is where you dream of being. spot on. why does so much of western society spend its energy on immasculating boys! why don’t we just develop a global strategy to have all boys wear pink and have their balls removed at birth! we are men. men are big boys. we play different. it’s been that way for along time. hello?…

  • The concept is sound, but why choose instruments of death and destruction? Depictions of a child driving a fire engine, ambulance, F1 car or big rig would have got the message across just as well, without being so utterly tasteless.

  • Rich Jackson

    I used to love authenticity as a child. Still do. I never liked the ‘made up’ star wars vehicles that hadn’t appeared in the film, I had a great toy Luger (real metal, no orange plastic muzzle on it) and I was always disappointed with Blue Peter competitions when they just printed the winning kids felt tipped pen poster effort, I always wanted a proper designer to come along and finish it.

    So from a childhood perspective, I think this campaign would’ve been a success… on me any way.

    I find this a whole lot creepier as an adult. That’s what age and experience does for you. Thank god I never had to experience being a child soldier.

    However, should we really be aiming ANY advertising at children. My adult brain says emphatically no, but my inner child remembers loving the ad breaks in Tiswas, especially around christmas time. I still want a Big Trak. Now that’s indoctrination for ya!

    There’s a great cartoon by Ron Cobb (for the LA free press I think) of a boy with his new ultra realistic army action figure. So realistic that it breaks out of the box and runs him though with its bayonet.

  • Pete

    RE: Alex Szabo-Haslam

    Defo! My first thought was why are these posters not of racing cars and space rockets?

  • Ryan

    War might actually sound fun to kids in peaceful countries, as is something that will only happens in the movie and TV news.

    I think it’s wrong to used this point to targets kids for commercial purpose by conveyed such message.
    This should be ad maker’s social responsibility.

  • nik harron

    Part of what makes these ads so disturbing is the portrayal of the children themselves. Their faces are set in an attitude of detachment – a completely flat affect – they certainly don’t look like they’re having fun, more like they are bored or apathetic.

    I’m sure there must have been some discussion at the art direction stage to play down the emotion and make them not look like gleeful psychopaths on the rampage who delight in killing, but what they have ended up with is a colder, more detached killer vibe – which is actually more disturbing.

  • Bill S. in Tennessee

    Oh I don’t know…given half a chance, I’d think most children, unformed as they are today in matters of morality and empathy, would jump at the chance to unleash the killing power of these machines. I think the ad campaign and the toys themselves say more about our culture than about corporate greed. It’s the same argument Warner Bros. used some years ago when they were called to task over obscene rap lyrics… they said, “Hey, we’re just providing the public with what they want.” How is this different?

  • As a kid I loved playing with military themed toys, as do most normal kids anywhere regardless of location or upbringing. As a kid I was constantly frustrated at the patronizing views adults had of me. As a kid, these ads would have sent my imagination soaring.

    Whoever did these ads still remembers what it was like to be a kid. Props to Matchbox for using them.

    As a sidenote, I’m amused that everyone thinks the previous run of ads, depicting kids driving cars, is somehow innocent compared to these military-themed ads. Automobiles kill 400 000 humans every year.

    Enjoy your day.

  • JBchopo

    “dull-eyed”? He’s concentrating, I’m sure it’s not easy to fly one of those things.

  • Sunil Shibad

    Singapore, the capital of scam ads.

    The original idea is here:

  • Knickerbocker

    They tried selling dolls with limp-wristed long-haired vegans sticking daisies into rifle barrels but nobody wanted to buy them.

  • LMAO about Knickerbocker’s comment. For real people get a life? You really think a boy plays with these toys or sees these pictures he is going to be totally messed up or some how cause him to be violent. Or worse god forbid like the military when he is older. Yuck that is what is wrong with this world now a days. Participation medals and wussification of our males.