Skip to content

ING Canada pulls controversial “ARE YOU SUFFERING?” tv commercials.


No one is immune from being misunderstood, most everyone is guilty at one time or another of misspeaking or of making an off comment. Yes, people are human and we all make mistakes, but how do you account for a large company like ING Direct launching the “Are You Suffering?” campaign that was viewed by many people as insulting or insensitive? The ad concept centers on an attempt at humor, comparing the anxiety and tension of retirement savings at tax time to a fictional disease called “RSP” (‘retirement savings plan”; a Canadian version of our “IRA”) for which, in the commercial, ING Direct Canada provides the ‘cure’.

In defense of the campaign that rolled out just over a week ago, ING Direct says that they never meant to insult. Unfortunately for them not only did they offend some of their viewing audience, they managed to rile the CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA). What were the creatives thinking, or were they? After all, unlike a thoughtless or misunderstood quip in facebook, advertising campaigns are (should be) the result of much research, reflection, creativity, critique, and audience testing. The Toronto based advertising agency of record says the ads were tested. But as fellow creative professional Rand says, “There’s testing and then there’s common sense and gut feelings.” Maybe some people are overly sensitive, or perhaps the creatives in charge did not have their own sensitivity meters turned up high enough.

Colleague Rand MacIvor brought the campaign to our attention via a closed group of creatives on LinkedIn. He also posted comments on facebook. Having health challenges of his own Rand felt insulted by the nature of the ads. As it turns out he was one of many. A few of us weighed in with our opinions and by and large there was a consensus, the ads were not funny, nor would they evoke the response that was intended. Being the kind of guy Rand is he wasn’t about to allow the spots to go unaccounted for. He launched a campaign of his own to draw attention to the offending ads. He wrote to ING Direct’s customer service and PR department and tweeted their CEO. He also wrote to the president of the ad agency. Rand says that, “all replied that they hadn’t intended to belittle anyone’s health issues. The fact is, they did.” Rand tweeted a reply to the CEO of ING Direct Canada saying, “No one wants to be known as the bank that makes fun of the chronically ill…” The days that followed saw the company attempt damage control over the many comments posted by others on it’s Facebook page. On Tuesday, a bit more than a week since the ads began running, and following several comments from health associations, the company announced it was pulling the ads, apologizing for any ill feelings they had caused.

Ewing Creative applauds both Rand MacIvor for taking issue with the ads publicly, and ING Direct for appropriately deciding to pull them from the air. We also applaud the citizens of Canada for making their voices known through social media.

The campaign was aimed at a Canadian audience and the tv ads were not aired in the U.S., but could be viewed worldwide on YouTube (of course). View tv spot and read Marketing Magazine article here.  Also see Marketing Magazine’s article announcing that the ad was pulled.

ING Direct Canada is a separate entity from its parent company and has been bought by the Bank of Nova Scotia in Canada, thus has no relation to the international ING anymore.

Posted by Kristy Ewing on January 22, 2013

Comments are closed.