By: Joy Han [Account Services]
Advertisers are constantly encouraged to think outside the box, which in most cases, is a suitable mantra for an industry promoting creativity and new ideas. Humor, for one, often helps advertisers catch the eyes of their targets, but this cannot take place until the agency thoroughly understands the personalities of its clients’ brands.
Normally, most companies fare well in their efforts to please the crowd while simultaneously throwing in a taste of appropriate emotion. Jim Edwards, who came up with “Business Insider’s 10 Best Ads of 2011,” said “the best ads ran the gamut—from animated epics to simple, dramatic performances that will make you cry. Comedy was big, too, as long as it was smart.”
Unfortunately, some advertisers don’t handle comedy with the greatest of care, missing the mark by a long shot. Whether they miss this mark because they become distracted from the audience’s values, or because they simply misunderstand who their targets are, even the most experienced professionals sometimes fail to truly connect with their customers. As a result, Madison Avenue has experienced its share of unfortunate events. These advertising horror stories pop up all along the print-to-digital spectrum, and here are some of 2011’s worst offenders.
Not all print ads go down smoothly, either
This past March, Belvedere Vodka released a controversial ad on its Facebook and Twitter pages only to pull it off both websites within just one hour. “The image depicted a woman looking horrified while a man grabs her from behind,” describes Alana Horowitz of The Huffington Post.
In her article, “Belvedere Vodka Ad Under Fire for Rape Implications,” Horowitz reports the unsurprising influx of complaints from offended viewers, accusing the company of inadvertently promoting rape and sexual harassment.
It isn’t just Belvedere, though. Many companies and their advertising agencies make the mistake of overlooking entire campaigns that could offend numerous audiences.
Got common sense?
For example, the California Milk Processor Board quickly pulled some creative components from one of its “Got Milk?” campaigns after rubbing its main target (milk-buying women) the wrong way. According to Marc Babej’s Forbes article, “’Got Milk?’ Pulls Its PMS-Themed Campaign Amid Controversy,” “the latest ads revolved around the claim that milk can mitigate symptoms of premenstrual syndrome.”
Despite the truth behind this claim, in addition to the fact that many viewers would find these print ads humorous, advertisers for the Board should have focused less on getting a few laughs and instead should have tried to determine what was most appropriate for their primary, female target. As contributor Babej says, “[at] the end of the day, a humorous misstep is still a misstep.”
Taking racial stereotyping to a new level?
This doesn’t just occur with domestic companies and their agencies, either. How about last year, when a Dubai advertising agency was accused of using racial stereotypes to promote a Chinese restaurant? According to Nadeem Hanif of The National, “[the] advert for China Times, which has branches in Deira City Centre and Jumeirah Plaza, features photographs of three men—a Sikh, an Arab and a black man—whose eyes have been digitally altered to look Chinese, with the slogan ‘Brings out the Chinese in everyone’.”
The ad, while never released, was actually approved by the restaurant. However, it somehow managed to catch the attention of Internet users, many of which responded with attacks against both the ad agency and the business. The agency’s communications director responded to the incident by rationalizing the idea behind the campaign, saying the ads were supposed to represent Dubai’s diversity, as well as everyone’s fondness for Chinese food.
“However, the problem is with the execution of that idea, which is obviously not what we would condone,” said Melanie Vignon, the director of the ad agency that created the piece, according to Hanif.
Masterminds behind ads like the above may or may not have made a mistake. Often times, what is offensive to one member of the audience is humorous to another. It all comes down to having good taste; after all, the best ads are created with the greatest taste.
Good taste is irreplaceable. Humor is subjective, and it won’t always be executed with success. But on the bright side, it can produce some really great reactions when done tastefully.
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