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Participants celebrate winning at the Hipster Olympics in Berlin, Saturday, July 21, 2012. (THOMAS PETER/Reuters)
Participants celebrate winning at the Hipster Olympics in Berlin, Saturday, July 21, 2012. (THOMAS PETER/Reuters)

Ad aimed at hipsters hits below the belt Add to ...

As I write this, I am literally surrounded by them. Young people, wearing skinny jeans, thrift-store fitted plaid shirts, and ironic trucker hats or toques. Some of them have mustaches, others various beard-and-sideburn combinations, almost all of them (regardless of the need for corrective lenses) with heavy, dark-rimmed glasses like the ones Charles Martin Smith wore in American Graffiti. Even the women. Especially the women. Come to think of it, CMS may have been the prototypical hipster.

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But I digress.

They are shaggy-haired, androgynous, they love hoppy beer and they hate everything you like. They’re talking about bands you’ve never heard of, films you’ll never see, and places you have no desire to visit, and they’re doing it in bars you have no idea exist.

Being a hipster, however, is not their job description.

This week, the B.C. government launched a $15-million advertising campaign that suggested the opposite.

The ad, which appeared on transit this week, features cartoonish white letters against a green background. The message reads: HIPSTER is not A REAL JOB.

Ouch. Take that, Siobhan. Or Tyler. Or ironically named Frank.

The obvious problem with the ad is that it doesn’t make any sense.

Many hipsters have jobs; they make your coffee, serve you lunch, fix your computer when it crashes, your vintage bicycle when you bend a wheel, they take your tickets at the theatre, cut your hair, and brew your IPA. They sell each other hipster clothes, hipster home accessories, hipster books and magazines and hipster music. While being a hipster clearly takes work – simply being one is not a job, “real” or otherwise.

Rob Tarry, a creative director and partner with the Vancouver firm Rethink, says the ad breaks the first rule of good advertising. “You’ve got to have clarity. If you don’t have clarity, you have nothing,” he said in an interview this week.

While Mr. Tarry admires the strategy, he says the ad could have been written in a way that doesn’t confuse people. He says a better line may have been, “No one is going to pay you to update your status all day.”

While Twitter may not be the exclusive domain of hipsters, (I’m sure they’ve declared it over and have moved on to a new thing you’ve never heard of), the reaction to the ad was swift and vitriolic.

“Highly insulting to young people struggling with employment,” read one tweet.

“For those of us who are actively working to try and find a job, it’s a slap in the face from government,” read another.

And on the same theme: “Last time I checked, college graduate serving coffee to service a crushing debt in a weak job market WAS a real job.”

Others declared the ad an attack on people who work in the arts and cultural sector.

“The whole campaign speaks to what bodies, presentations and performances the BC Government deems desirable,” read one tweet.

The ad, is of course, just a small part of a $15-million provincial campaign. Click on careertrekbc.ca – the website the ad points to – and you’ll meet Viviana and Brian, two young non-hipsters (although Brian is wearing an untucked, fitted shirt,) who will introduce you to 52 potential careers with the aid of, get this, a paper road map.

The videos are slick, although the icons representing the skill set necessary for each career are a little bit dumb. Want to be a bike-courier? Well, then, you’ll need good manual dexterity, spacial recognition, and you need to be social. I’m not making this up.

And yes, “bike courier” is among the 52 occupations listed. As are other hipster jobs like baker, cook, food and beverage server, retail sales clerk, and information systems professional.

So the knee-jerk suspicions of those on Twitter who imagined the campaign a swipe at their lifestyle turn out to be unfounded, at least when you look beyond the slogan on the bus.

Where they are partly right is in their pessimism when it comes to employment opportunities for young people. Eight of the 52 careers featured list annual starting salaries of just $11,000. Try living on that in Vancouver as you pay back your student loan.

The real debate, though, should be about whether $15-million to produce a twentysomething version of This Is Daniel Cook and duplicate the work of high-school career counsellors is a good use of taxpayers’ money.

As they say on Twitter, discuss.

Stephen Quinn is the host of On the Coast on CBC Radio One in Vancouver, 690 AM and 88.1 FM. @cbcstephenquinn

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