— On Comms Design. From London

Advertising as social commentary

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About 2 weeks ago, I got really upset at seeing this ad and posted a heartfelt “fuck you” to the advertiser behind it. My original post is here and includes a share of an article in the Guardian that, at that time, 2 weeks back, was smugly noticing that we have given in to advertising messages but forgotten to take a stand. The article said “Feminists may fondly recall the Fiat advert – slogan: “if it were a lady, it would get its bottom pinched” – that one clever woman vandalised with the words “if this lady was a car she’d run you down”. You rarely see such things these days, but the art of subvertising is alive and well on the internet.”

I didn’t particularly like the article  mostly because it takes that defeatist, “if we could make the perfect world we would, but unfortunately socialism is dead” stance that I really really hate from neo-socialists, but at the time it was the only thing being shared on the sheer ugliness that the ad was.

Over the course of two weeks, to my absolute content, I saw the opposite happening and the movement to take down the ad grow, first on the internet – the ultimate guerilla opposition platform, and finally in print (see pic below from tonight’s Evening Standard) and on the streets.

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As I write this, a march is planned for tomorrow in Hyde Park, against the sexism of this campaign. Below is also a print screen of the search results one gets when searching for “everybody is beach body ready”, a slogan invented (or maybe borrowed) by plus-size label simplybe.co.uk for an anti-ad they ran and my header pic, taken from here, is just one reaction London women chose to give this highly offensive piece of promotion.

But this is not a political blog. This is a blog about marketing and some observations are in order.Screen shot 2015-05-01 at 9.42.31 PM

1. We luckily live in a world where brands can no longer exist without a higher purpose, something beyond making products and selling them. Dove is the example that springs to mind as mot relevant for this and, while pretty much everyone “cool” and “progressive” has been pish-poshing their campaigns lately, I would say it’s refreshing to see a brand stand up and do something even if it is within the very narrow confines of what marketing managers usually allow advertising to do. It took advertising forever to recognize that you could celebrate love with same sex couples and that it was ok to have black people in ads for non-ethnic ranges. But someone did. And just as praising Emma Watson for supporting women, we should thank brands that choose to use their media placements with more sensible messages. If they were not around, the billboards would belong to the likes of PW, the company behind the yellow monstrosity.

2. Creative relevance cannot live outside a clear understanding of the zeitgeist – I do not CARE if this ad was best suited for its purpose, because it missed a major thing which is that even with the new healthy-living craze running around, no woman likes to be confronted with this antiquated ideal of beauty and done so in such a crass way. They also completely missed the fact that feminism is on the rise, not only in academic circles, and that we now have the internet which allows for pockets of dissent to form quickly and strike mightily. Which brings me to…

3. Social listening is something you MUST do – and it is not that I have been working on a women’s beauty brand for the past 3 months, but a minimal look at what women post on Twitter here would have made anyone realize that even when you look good, the pressure to be always fit and pretty is huge and women feel tired and stressed. The yellow Aussie in the ad was simply the last straw.

4. Advertising is commentary –> If people did not know, the blurring of lines between advertising and social commentary happened about 20 years ago when United Colors of Benetton used news images to make a point on where they stood as a company. There is no way a responsible marketing manager thinks putting a highly offensive message ALL OVER a city will not impact social conversations and the public agenda, especially when you’re talking to Millenials, the most “involved” generation ever.

5. Impact on business will happen – the people behind the ad seemed to have taken this quite lightly and acted according to the old saying that “any publicity is good publicity”. Well, not really. As this report from Havas Media shows, “brands that focus on improving society and on making our lives easier and healthier, gain a greater share of our existence and receive higher levels of engagement and trust in return“. In short, any publicity is no longer good publicity.

Finally, one note one the reaction from Dove on a spoof made by an anonymous user and signed with the Dove logo. The company denied being behind the ad that says “yes we are.” and shows three curvy women. I was personally disappointed but you need to realize, as a marketing professional, that getting your brand i282D228E00000578-3062882-image-a-9_1430418983103nvolved in social conversations with other brands can quickly escalate into something you do not want. We spend a lot of time at the agency working on social guidelines and using other brands to maximize on a creative opportunity is usually the hardest to advice on.