Adding Offense to Advertising
Firstly, I apologize for not posting for the past two weeks. I’ve been a little busy with finals and then moving back in at home, and there was some lack of motivation there too. But now I’ll be back to posting every week.
Last week I came across an article about recent poor advertising campaigns that resulted in some serious negative publicity for several companies such as PepsiCo, Ford Motors, Hyundai Motors, Reebok, and General Motors. Amidst consumer backlash, these companies recently had to apologize for some of their ads that may have suggested subjects like rape, race, and suicide.
PepsiCo—Representatives recently apologized for this ad about their Mountain Dew Brand. The ad features a beaten up white lady trying to identify her attacker from a police lineup that features African-American men and a goat (who is the actual attacker because he has an addiction to Mountain Dew, yeah long story). The ad was created by rapper Tyler, the Creator who is known to push buttons with his music but insists that this ad wasn’t meant to offend anyone. Judge for yourself whether this ad is offensive or not:
PepsiCo also cut ties with Lil Wayne, the famous rapper, after he produced a song called “Karate Chop” which had vulgar lyrics that many people, including the relatives of Emmett Till, the murdered teenager in 1955 who’s death stimulated the Civil Rights Movement, found highly offensive. The lyric video is here. Skip to 3:20 to hear Wayne’s verse and the controversial lyric mentioning Till. Note: Lyrics are very explicit.
Ford—Another embarrassment to the advertising world came when two senior creative executives, one of whom is a managing partner, at JWT India lost their jobs after the company produced a set of ads that featured women bound and gagged in the trunk of a Ford Figo while Paris Hilton and Silvio Berlusconi are driving. Here are the ads:
So why do these controversial ads keep happening, and why are they increasing? Experts believe that the primary reason is because creative executives on Madison Avenue are more desperate to create ads that will be noticed and that are “unique”. Says Tor Myrhen, President and Chief Creative Officer of Grey New York, “It’s the pressure to get more views online that leads people to push the envelope…there’s so much ‘How do we speak to millennials?’ in meetings.” Social media has been the quickest way to reach the masses nowadays and sometimes it appears that brands focus more on releasing more ads at a faster rate than their competition than focus on the quality of each ad. Consumers aren’t the best at gauging what’s wrong vs. what’s interesting either. “The race to re-Tweet and to click ‘Thumbs Up’, beats the impulse to take a step back and make sure the ad is crafted exactly the way you want it to be received”, says Nancy Hill of the American Association of Advertising Agencies. In my opinion, ad agencies always have a tough job with making ads for the public. But it’s a question of knowing what is right and what could be wrong that should always be in the minds of these directors. I mean did nobody in Ford ever think that the ads might be a little too offensive for the public? Could PepsiCo not put in at least one white guy in the lineup, or at least be extra wary that Tyler, the Creator is leading the project? All these problems seem like they could have been avoided with a few tweaks and modifications here and there. Being risqué isn’t a bad thing, but it is risky. Some companies have pulled it off fairly well (Read: Kmart Takes a Ship on Its Competition) but others, as the ones mentioned in this article, are not so lucky.
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