In the wake of Hyundai pulling and abjectly apologizing for a UK commercial that upset a London copywriter whose father committed suicide, three more brands have had to follow suit, Advertising Age reported May 2.
One of these was the last of a three-spot campaign for Mountain Dew, the first two having apparently escaped offending anyone’s tender sensitivities.
When an organization calling itself the Black World Coalition denounced it as “arguably the most racist commercial in history,” parent company Pepsico cancelled the entire campaign – which is slightly ironic when one considers that rapper Tyler, the Creator, who, well, created it is himself black.
In the first commercial of the series, Felicia the Goat (whose voice Tyler based on his mother’s) beats up a (white) waitress for serving Mountain Dew. Why, nobody knows. In the second spot, the goat escapes and is pulled over for DewUI (Get it?). In the third, “most racist commercial in history,” the battered waitress is asked to pick out her assailant from a lineup comprising the goat and five black men.
And that’s where the “racism” comes in. “Of course, in the world of Mountain Dew, every single suspect is black,” the Black World Coalition complains. But this neglects the fact that in order for a lineup to work, all the subjects (who can sometimes include police officers) need to look and dress alike in order to avoid bias; so if one person in the lineup is black, the others have to be, too. Tyler could have easily cast a lineup of white thugs, but then someone might have whined about the spot having a lily-white cast.
In addition to what’s becoming the standard apology, Mountain Dew has used Hyundai’s “copyright infringement” dodge to pull the whole campaign from YouTube. But, unlike Hyundai, they don’t have the excuse that this was some kind of guerilla commercial.
According to Business Insider, they knew what they were approving.
Tyler, The Creator described when his manager Christian Clancy first told him that Mountain Dew thought he was creative and wanted to work with him.
I’m gonna tell them some stupid idea I come up with five minutes before the meeting and they’re gonna think it’s f***in’ retarded, and I didn’t get my hopes up,” Tyler said. “And then I took a meeting with them and it was like, ok, uh, they were actually cool and young, a little older than me, and they were like, ‘Tell us your commercial idea.'”
So Tyler described the [campaign] as the following: “Alright [sic], it’s a f***ing goat, right? It’s a goat and he’s gonna drink the f***ing Mountain Dew, and he’s gonna yell at the lady, and the cops are going to pull him over, and then he’s going to be in jail and then he gonna [sic] do PCP.”
Positive he was going to get turned down, Tyler noted his shock when the Mountain Dew team ate the concept up.
“I’m so used to people saying, ‘That’s f***ing retarded,[‘] and I’m looking at Clancy like, ‘Yo are they serious’ and they actually liked it.”
Meanwhile, Chevrolet apologized for and remixed a commercial showing how its Trax SUV is a “reborn” version of a Roaring Twenties model after receiving what’s been variously described as “a complaint” and “some negative feedback regarding the lyrics in the commercial’s soundtrack,” according to GM Canada spokeswoman Faye Roberts. The South China Post later called the spot “racist” and “offensive” in a headline and subhead.
The “offensive”soundtrack in question is an existing piece of music by Austrian performer Parov Stelar. Well, not whole 60-second track, but just six seconds, or 10 percent, of it, with lyrics that include “In the land of Fu Manchu” and “where all the girls sing ‘ching, ching, chop-suey.'”
Funny thing is, the spot ran on television only in Canada and on Chevrolet websites in Europe, neither of which is anywhere near China. But with its North American and European sales continuing to tank four years after its government takeover, Chevrolet division is seeking to Find New Roads by increasing sales in the People’s Republic of China. To that end, they’re sinking $11 billion into building new plants and hiring new (Chinese) workers there, in the hope of selling 5 million vehicles by 2016. Your tax dollars at work.
That corporate strategy probably explains why GM spokeswoman Ryndee Carney was quick to state, “Our intent was not to offend anyone and we’re deeply sorry if anyone was offended” – also why the company was quick to remix the spot to remove the offending lyrics and pull even the inoffensively remixed commercial from its European websites.
(As a side note, what folks regard as ethnic slurs today were fairly common in the 1920s’ music scene. In one recording of music from the Cotton Club from that era, an emcee introduces Duke Ellington as “the king of jungle music.” And the original lyrics of Cole Porter’s “Let’s Do It” start with “Chinks do it. Japs do it. Upper Lapland little Lapps do it. Let’s do it. Let’s fall in love.” Of course, being authentic isn’t the same as being unbigoted, much less politically correct.)
In India, Ford and its advertising agency, JWT, disavowed and apologized for a poster campaign that critics outside India, who saw them on the Ads of the World website, labeled as “sexually offensive.”
The posters feature illustrations of three attractive women bound and gagged in a Ford Figo’s luggage compartment, presumably to demonstrate its roominess.
“The ads were not approved by Ford,” Ad Age reported.
Such ads, created without client approval, are often called “fake ads” or “scam ads” and are made by creatives seeking attention and looking for ways to bolster their portfolios. But the practice can spell bad news for both clients and agencies and the timing couldn’t be worse for these ads to emerge out of the Indian market.
The controversial posters were uploaded for public view at a time when India is in crisis over sexual assaults on women. ..
One of the ads depicted reality TV star Paris Hilton with what appears to be Kim Kardashian and her two sisters tied up in the trunk of her car. The tagline: “Leave your worries behind with Figo’s extra large boot.”
But by a strange turn of events, the agency, not the individual creative people, had entered them in Goafest, India’s equivalent of the Clios or the One Show. Even stranger, the entry was accompanied by a letter of approval from the client, as required by the competition’s rules to prove the entry’s authenticity.
Strangest of all is why, if the poster was really a guerilla effort that had nothing to do with either JWT or Ford, they fired both managing partner and chief creative officer Bobby Pawar and VP/senior creative director Vijay Simha directly because of it.
Be careful out there
General Motors says it’s now “reviewing our approval processes to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
Maybe the clueless people who approved Tyler’s “stupid idea” for Mountain Dew should consider doing likewise.
Given today’s digital technology, anyone with a computer and the knowledge to use it can create a commercial for your brand. Many copywriters and art directors do, to build their portfolios, to win awards, or to just have fun. While your brand or your agency can’t control everyone, you can at least check your own company’s award entries before filing them, to keep anything scandalous from getting wide exposure.
Best of all, you can try to come up with great ideas that don’t depend on ethnicity or sexuality. The industry has a rich history of them, you know. It may mean more work. But it’s better than the alternatives of turning out inoffensively bland vanilla mush or making yourself a target of some sorehead with a chip on his or her shoulder and computer access.
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