Sunday, July 27, 2008

5747: Mad Ave Never Fails To Offend.


How to Cut Through but Not Offend? Verizon, Snickers Latest to Fail Test
Furor Over Ads Is a Reminder of How Easily a Blowup Can Occur

By Matthew Creamer and Rupal Parekh

NEW YORK -- Late last week, an important bit of marketing news about Mars Inc. was delivered to the world through an unusual channel: a press release from a gay-rights organization that had pressured the candy giant to pull one of its ads. The U.K. spot features a scene where Mr. T machine-guns Snickers bars at an effeminate man and culminates with the tagline “Snickers. Get Some Nuts.” The Human Rights Campaign, summing up the sentiment of many in the blogosphere, said the bit condones violence against gays.

Meanwhile, a no-less-intense furor was brewing over an entirely different perceived offense against a totally different group of, um, life forms. Dog owners and canine organizations foamed over a Verizon Wireless commercial featuring a pair of snarling pit bulls that leap to devour a guy but fall short because of their chains. (Across the pond, another canine ad scandal formed around Churchill Insurance when its loveable spokesdog was accused of adding a barely audible obscene coda to his catchphrase.)

By week’s end, both Verizon and Mars had caved under the pressure, showing that this, apparently, is no time for ads that risk offense -- not particularly good news for brands. With the sheer volume of commercial messages swelling, consumers are harder to reach than ever. A tried and true way of slicing through the noise is to prick or even jab at their sensibilities, an approach that may not lead directly to sales but may get a brand some much-needed attention. As a Verizon spokeswoman told “These are fictional ads, designed to be over-the-top, to break through the clutter and get our message across.”

Mars pulled its Snickers ads, while Verizon put on what appeared to be a brave face and said it was keeping its ad in circulation. However, at least one version of the ad on You Tube had been pulled by week’s end. In its place was a note that it had been removed after a “copyright claim” from McCann Erickson, which happens to be Verizon’s agency.

Whether you view the uproars and reactions as political correctness gone wild or a legitimate response to offensive messaging, this sort of thing is nothing new, nor is it limited to the ad world. Last week also saw shock jock Michael Savage enrage parents of children with autism when he called the condition “a fraud, a racket.” But it is a reminder of how easily a blowup can occur.

[Read the full story here.]

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