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Advertising Risks and Responsibilities

All great advertising requires a degree of bold, imaginative risk-taking to break through the daily clutter of product information and brand messages.

The adage that the greatest risk a marketer can take, is to take no risk at all, has never been truer.

The challenge of course is to create brand advertising that has a high recall value for all the right and not the wrong reasons, which brings one to the issue of risk and responsibility in marketing and creative decision-making.

Calling the shots incorrectly can usually be attributed to an irresponsible lack of human insight. As has been said so often, without insight there is actually no idea. The lifeblood of creative intuition is the thorough understanding of the hopes, aspirations and cultural sensitivities of consumers and their daily realities and to not think of them as mere demographics.

Engaging or Enraging?

The Xbox ‘Champagne’ commercial of 2002 went viral a month before being screened on television, but was banned shortly thereafter by the UK Independent Television Commission.

The satire and underlying metaphorical humour of the message was completely lost on some viewers who complained that the commercial was ‘offensive, shocking and in bad taste.

They clearly did not understand the playful mindset of 2 billion active ‘gamers’ globally for whom the tongue-in-message was meant and overwhelmingly well received.

Whether the bold message delivery of the commercial was a responsible or irresponsible creative decision is maybe debatable. However, on the plus side of any debate is the extraordinary and lasting aspect of this commercial that more than a decade later, is still viewed weekly on YouTube. For me the satirical message is as insightfully relevant today as it was back then.

1. Xbox, Champagne

Advertising Agency: BBH (Bartle Bogle Hegarty), London, UK

The commercial directed by Daniel Kleinman, despite its UK television ban, went on to receive multiple awards which included a Cannes International Advertising Festival Gold Lion for Entertainment & Leisure, and an Art Directors Club of Europe overall Grand Prix and Gold award for Cinema Commercials.

2. MACMA Argentina, Man Boobs

Advertising Agency: David, Buenos Aires, Argentina

The David Agency, part of the Ogilvy & Mather network, and MACMA, Argentina’s Breast Cancer Help Movement’s advertising campaign was a concerted endeavour to raise early awareness of breast cancer detention.

They realised that their objective would possibly necessitate defying social media censorship, as videos or images featuring any hint of nudity are blocked from Facebook and Instagram, even images relating to non-sexual activities such as breastfeeding.

The challenge facing Joaquin Cubria and Ignacio Ferioli, executive creative directors at David was that getting women over 25 to check their cell phones every 5 minutes was easy, but to get them to examine their breasts regularly required showing women a step-by-step technique of self-examination on naked breasts, real breasts, but that was being denied to them.

They decided to risk circumventing the censors by substituting ‘man boobs’ for naked female breasts in their commercial and made advertising history.

Directed by 1985 at Landia with Nicolas Hardy as Director of Photography, the campaign won a Cannes Gold Lion for Film and the 2016 Cannes Health Lions Grand Prix for Good.

48 million views were motivated in the first week and shared 700,000 times, becoming the most shared and viewed breast self-examination campaign ever.

3. MACMA Argentina, Everyone Loves Boobs

Advertising Agency: David, Buenos Aires, Argentina

The David Agency and MACMA, Argentina’s Breast Cancer Help Movement decided that the next step required for Breast Cancer Awareness was a bold, new approach to remove any lingering social stigmas about an affliction that can be avoided or cured with early detection.

However, as Joaquin Cubria and Ignacio Ferioli, executive creative directors at David explained; “Censorship in social media is still an issue that has led us to look for new ways of creatively bypassing stipulated restrictions”.

This time they took the calculated risk of getting around the censors by replacing the forbidden nipples with singing mouths. It was a responsible risk that paid off handsomely.

The commercial, directed by 1985 at Landia, is surreal and decidedly bizarre. Some viewers thought it to be grotesque, but it is undeniably a hugely memorable commercial that made headlines across the world for all the right reasons, and broke through many of the social barriers concerning Breast Cancer Awareness.

4. Pepsi Max, Live For Now

Director of Photograhy for The Pepsi Max commercial “Live For Now Moments Anthem” was Bjorn Charpentier. It starred Kendall Jenner and featured the song “Lions” by Skip Marley as the soundtrack.

Public reaction to the commercial was immediate and the resulting crtique was wide-spread.

Rolling Stone Magazine described it as being “gallingly tone-deaf. A disrespect of the real injustices that drive people to the streets to argue that their black lives matter”.

“The Pepsi Max commercial tagline “Live bolder. Live louder. Live for Now”, is particularly outrageous given the circumstances and realities at play”.

The general consensus was that to foolishly suggest that a Pepsi can singlehandedly solve racially motivated police brutality, even for a second, was insulting in the extreme.

The commercial was conceived and produced by Pepsi’s in-house content creation team in their ‘Creators League Studio’.

Many advertising industry professional regard that decision as irresponsible and one that was always going to be fraught with high risk as ‘content’ per se seldom equates to persuasive communication.

Bob Hoffman, the famous Ad Contrarian, in his typical forthright manner describes ‘content creation’ as an activity masquerading as an Idea.

To Pepsi’s laudable credit, they bravely accepted full responsibility for the ‘Live For Now’ project failure, withdrew the commercial and issued a public apology:

Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly we missed the mark, and we apologise”.

We also apologise for putting Kendall Jenner in an unenviable position”.

In mitigation of Pepsi’s debacle, I’m reminded of the adage that the only person or persons who never made a mistake are those who never made anything at all.

5. Carl’s Jr. Hardee’s, Drive-In Cinema

Advertising Agency: 72andSunny, Los Angeles, USA

Directed by Chris Applebaum, the commercial stars model Kate Upton sensually enjoying a Hardee’s ‘Southwest Patty Melt’ at a retro 50’s Drive-In Cinema parking lot.

The link between the fast food chain’s hot Jalapeno filled burger and a ‘hot’ girl is an expected, carnal, ‘no-brainer’ of an idea that is unapologetically provocative and blatantly sexist.

6. Carl’s Jr. Hardee’s Tex Mex Bacon Thickburger, Borderball

Advertising Agency: 72andSunny, Los Angeles, USA

Directed by Chris Applebaum, the commercial is about Carl’s Jr. Hardee’s new ‘Thickburger’ made up of ingrediets that are partly ‘Tex’ and partly ‘Mex’.

Which part is the ‘tastier’ of the two however, is put to a decider in a border beach vollyball game between a team from Texas starring model Elle Evans, and a team from Mexico starring model Alejandra Guilmant. As can be expected, some eye-candy ‘buns’ were also on display for Hardee’s male fans.

The promotion was another of the brand’s series of commercials that pursued Playboy Magazine’s ‘sex sells’ advertising approach, so hugely favoured by Hardee’s 18 to 35 male target audience and their testosterone fuelled phantasies.

Feminists and supportive gender activist groups throughout the long running campaign expressed their disapproval and outrage with highly publicized condemnation. Relentless public pressure finally forced the fast food chain in 2017 to accept responsibly for their crass gender stereotyping with a vow to change their advertising approach and clean up their act.

Dove Denmark, The Image Hack

The Unilever Company pledged its support to Danish Advertising Agency Mindshare’s activst initiative to stamp out female stereotypes in brand advertising.

A Unilever press statement expained the motivation for their committed support as follows:

“As a global marketer Unilever plays a important part in how ‘genders’ are presented in the media”.

“Images that are not a true reflection of society and sexist portrayals of women, promote ideas that are demeaning and alienating instead of being uplifting”.

“68% of all women can’t relate to the imagery they see in advertising and we need to change that if we want consumers to have a positive feeling about our brands and foster brand kinship”.

“This is not only an issue of corporate responsibility and morality about making an actual difference to society, it’s also an economic issue”.

“We will create better advertising if we create brand communication that’s more progressive, relevant and resonant by challenging gender stereotypes”.

7. Dove Denmark, Image Hack Case Study

Advertising, Media & Marketing Agency: Mindshare, Denmark

The case study reminds me of an aptly insightful quote from AdContrarian author, blogger and internationally renound public speaker Bob Hoffman; “Good ads appeal to us as consumers. Great ads appeal to us as humans”.

9. Donate Life, The World’s Biggest Arsehole

Advertising Agency: The Martin Agency, Richmond, Virginia

The story of Coleman Sweeney, ‘The World’s Biggest Arsehole’, was a brave decision by Donate Life to grab the attention of young people by using a crass description for a equally crass character.

There was always the risk that the description of Coleman Sweeney would offend viewers. To most young people however, it is a familiar figure of speech used in daily conversations and it seems they did not think the metaphor was inappropriate.

The commercial was viewed more than 80 million times in 76 countries, was shared millions of times on social channels and received coverage on many news networks.

Donate Life went from 149 to 1,022 registrations per day, an increase of 586 percent. Also noteworthy is that being a nonprofit organisation, Donate Life had no production, nor media budget. The services of the Martin Agency and everyone involved in the production were done free of charge.

Directed by Will Speck and Josh Gordon with Will Arnett providing the voice-over, the campaign went on to win 10 Cannes Lions.