Edgy ads or just really bad taste?

Despite public apologies, some blue chip brands find themselves in the PR hot seat over offensive ads. The push to be ‘creative’ is simply backfiring.


Should advertising agencies start calling in PR firms before embarking on edgy mass-awareness campaigns?

After three renowned agencies recently developed advertisements resulting in public humiliation for their blue chip clients, one would think so.

In recent weeks, heads rolled over at JWT India for the apparent leak of an ad depicting the controversial Silvio Berlusconi driving a Ford Figo with three women bound and gagged in the trunk. Ford followed up with a public apology, setting sensitivities on high over potentially offensive campaigns.

Yet in the past two weeks, Hyundai Europe, Pepsico, and General Motors have all circulated public apologies for ads that fueled public disgust instead of piquing consumers’ interest.

“I believe that today, more than ever it is important to have a check and balance before pushing messages out to the public,” says Karen Swim, PR and marketing communications professional. “PR can help identify potential landmines and ensure that content does not diminish a brand’s reputation and credibility with the intended audience.”

Recently, Hyundai Europe generated a tsunami of negative buzz over its ad, Pipe Job. The ad, created by Innocean Europe, showed in harrowing detail a man’s failed suicide attempt while sitting in the eponymous car as exhaust fumes filled his closed garage.

Thanks to Hyundai’s clean emissions technology, the suicide fails.

As soon as the ad aired, the manufacturer took a public beating as consumers lit up their Twitter and Facebook feeds with messages of disbelief—including this poignant blog post from a woman who lost her father through similar circumstances.

“This ad is incredibly insensitive,” says Jodi Echakowitz, owner of Toronto-based Echo Communications. “I get the company has evolved somewhat and they want to be edgy in how they promote their vehicles, but to do so in such a hurtful way is not acceptable for any business.”

Then last week, Pepsico aired a Mountain Dew commercial now known as “the most racist ad ever” featuring a woman who was asked to pick out a criminal suspect from a lineup of black men and a goat. After mainstream and social media channels railed against the implications of the content, the soft-drink manufacturer pulled the ad and apologized.

General Motors quickly followed suit ending an ad purchase for Chevrolet featuring the song “In the Land of Fu Manchu,” in which the girls sing “ching, ching, chop suey.”

“These ads became car wrecks that could have and should have been prevented,” says Jeremy Pepper, public relations and social media consultant. “From the outside it appears these were situations where advertising wasn’t aligned with public relations or social media and no one thought beyond the clip for award season.”

Do you think ad agencies are ignoring the implications of bad PR for their clients in search of over-the-top creativity?

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