Everyone knows that ad campaigns don’t just happen; they’re the result of a lot of highly paid skilled work by experienced and seasoned professionals, right? Which takes us nowhere near to understanding the massively cringe-inducing (B)Ad Campaigns—ads so toxic that they drove customer engagement in reverse, and in some cases sunk the companies they were supposed to have buoyed.
A couple of personal faves:
To advertise the upcoming release of the white version of their PlayStation Portable, Sony released a number of subway, billboard and print ads that distastefully displayed a white woman dressed all in white seemingly assaulting a frightened-looking black woman dressed all in black. Racist much? Whoever thought that millions of people wouldn’t see this ad and instantly think of the injustices against African Americans that have taken place in the not-so-distant past, definitely lost their job the day that these ads went to print. They should have been given dunce caps on the way out.
After thousands of angry emails and a lot of terrible PR coverage from media outlets everywhere, Sony released a mewling statement saying:
“The marketing campaign for the launch of the White PSP in the Benelux focuses on the contract between the Black PSP model and the new Ceramic White PSP model,”
Which is basically a souped-up way of saying “Suck it up.” Great job, Sony.
Another personal love-to-hate ad for me, because I love Tibet: Groupon spent millions of dollars on their SuperBowl ads, so it’s unfortunate that one of their commercials turned out to be so demeaning to the Tibetan people and their struggles that it caused incredible backlash and had to be pulled just a few days after airing. This waste of time and energy featured actor Timothy Hutton discussing human rights abuses in Tibet before taking only a second to transition into praising the fish curry at Himalayan restaurants and thanking Groupon for his ability to reap the delicious deals.
“The people of Tibet are in trouble,” Hutton explains in the cringe-inducing spot, “Their very culture is in jeopardy. But they still whip up an amazing fish curry.”
Groupon faced thousands of disparaging comments, letters and phone calls accusing the company of trivializing the issues of the Tibetan people, forcing them to pen an apology, feebly state that they “poke fun at everyone,” and offer to donate money to charity—as long as their customers (or former ones) did so first.
How did such smart, highly paid and experienced people get it so wrong?
My take? Had they spent some of that mad money on properly testing their campaigns before they launched them—had they validated their appeal—they’d not have blown millions trying to claw back their legitimacy, never mind trying to create positive awareness.
If you’re contemplating what seems like a cutting edge campaign, avoid cutting your own throat in the process, and make the investment in validating its appeal; that’s the cheapest insurance you (and your job) can get.