Is being offensive online the latest in shock marketing?
Lately, there have been a string of offensive ads forcing corporations to retract and apologize—among them an ad for Ford India featuring tied-up women, a Hyundai ad joking about suicide, and a Mountain Dew spot in which a beat-up white woman picks out her perpetrator from a lineup of black men and a goat. (I can't believe I just had to type that sentence.) A column published yesterday on AdAge.Com suggests that, despite denials, the corporations involved knew full well in advance these spots were running and were willing to risk the bad publicity for the sake of exposure.
"We are very sorry if we have offended anyone. We have taken the video down and have no intention of using it in any of our advertising or marketing," Hyundai said of its ad showing a man trying to kill himself with car exhaust. Of course, they already had used it in their marketing—it had been put online. The ad was created by an internal agency at Hyundai Europe.
This is one of those weird phenomenons of the digital age. Back in the print days, when something was out there, it was out there—there was no retraction, no take-downs, no pretending the ad had not yet really been used for marketing. The legendary Beatles "butcher" album cover, which led Capitol Records to destroy thousands of copies and paste a new version over many others (steaming off the new cover eventually became a small industry for record collectors) is a good example of the pricey risks of causing widespread offense in print.
In digital, the risk is mainly to reputation—one many companies seem willing to make if it brings with it edgy appeal.