In the UK we enjoy humour in our adverts – often at the expense of knowing what the commercial is about. But increasingly, public relations needs to be offer a sanity check, since some jokes are offending vocal publics – or at least, activist groups.
General Motors ran an advert featuring a “suicidal” robot in the US recently – but following objections from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, it has agreed to make amends. The GM advert has survived though – on YouTube – with other online media such as Autoblog interviewing the robot.
VW has pulled its own advert using a suicide theme – and AdWeekhas an interesting reflection on whether such shocking themes are necessary to get audience attention, especially if aiming to reach young people. With edgy themes common currency in video games and home-made YouTube spots, is this a problem of advertisers not matching the medium to the message?
Are activist groups using the controversy to advance their own agendas? Or is the general public increasingly offended by sensitive topics being used for marketing purposes?
If the advertisers are so readily giving in to pressure groups – are they happy with the 15 seconds of fame – or are they pressurised by agencies who love controversial ads, which get them talked about? Are clients responding to the negative impact on their reputations? If so, who is signing off on such adverts – and where is the strategic public relations advice?