A couple of advertising issues in the news:
1) The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has asked that GM pull it’s ad that features an assembly line robot jumping off a bridge.
2) The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) AND the Human Rights Campaign have similarly asked Masterfoods (makers of the Snickers bar) to pull their most recent ad, claiming it is offensive and defamatory to gays and lesbians.
Let me begin by stating that creating an ad campaign that potentially endangers lives, offends the majority of viewers or severely degrades corporate brand value is just plain bad. Consider the recent Cartoon Network “Bomb Scare” ad campaign in Boston … definitely not good for sales.
HOWEVER, when you create a campaign that is edgy, bold and differentiates you from your competitors, you should expect some people to get a little T.O.’d. If that doesn’t happen at all, you probably didn’t take the idea far enough. Water down your ads to the point where nobody even comments, and you also water down your effectiveness.
What really gets my goat is the kinds of reactions the above ads got. Let’s take them one at a time….
1) The GM ad DIDN’T show the robot jumping off a bridge, it showed a robot dreaming about jumping off of a bridge. Minor distinction, for sure, but it’s important. If you’re going to create an ad that portrays a robot with anthropomorphic qualities of fear, depression, loss and sorrow, you might show it having such a terrible dream. This commercial is NOT an endorsement of bridge-jumping … it is simply the portrayal of something totally unexpected … a robot thinking like a human. It’s this unexpected idea that makes the ad powerful.
2) Although stereotypes are generally “bad”, they can’t be ignored and they can sometimes be the basis for a wealth of ad ideas. The stereo-type of two manly-men working in a garage, head down in an engine compartment (right or wrong), is something most people ‘get’. The unexpected event is when one guy leans over to eat the candy bar out of the other guy’s mouth (a la The Lady and the Tramp spaghetti scene). YOWZA! If that were to ever actually happen in the real world, what would you expect these two testosterone-laden guys to do?? I’m bettin’ a bit of macho, chest hair pulling is in order! This isn’t defamatory against gays and lesbians any more than the Jack McFarland character’s (Will & Grace) comments about straight guys was defamatory to heterosexuals. Both cases are simply portraying a character doing pretty much what you’d expect them to do.
Lesson to be learned; If you’re in the process of creating brand, don’t let these kinds of events instill ANY kind of fear in your decision-making. BE BOLD! Don’t be afraid to differentiate!