Just because you can get away with it doesn’t mean you should

9 Jun

First, the ad.

It was mailed to people in Birmingham this past week. So yes, it was meant for a UK audience, who are far more accustomed to edgy advertising than Canadians. But evidently there’s some kerfuffle over there about it too.

Harvey Nichols ads with models pissing their pants

I’m interested to know your immediate reaction to it. Here was mine:

Just because you can get away with an idea doesn’t mean you should.

The argument the agency makes is that the ad got noticed. It’s cheeky (“in a light-hearted, humorous way”) and inoffensive because they did their research and no one complained.

Let me tell you something about ad agency “research”: They showed it around the office, or to their like-minded mates. They did NOT take it to a conservative mom or dad in suburbia and ask them. They never do.

Consequently, the agency was able to convince the Harvey Nichols marketing people (who have publicly stood by the ad) that a bit of passing controversy would pay-off in strong sales. There’s no such thing as bad publicity when you’re having a Sale!

Well yes, there is. There’s the kind of bad publicity that tastelessness leaves in the mind. I think this kind of tastelessness is universal.

Then there are these 2 critical questions:

1. Do I want to shop at a clothing store that shows its models soiling their clothes? No. I do not find that an appealing or convincing sell. What will be the in-store activity to support the Sale? Mannequins with wet crotches? A fashion show where the models piss themselves at the end of the runway? Maybe the staff will all have wet spots during the event? No? They won’t go that far? Hm. Wonder why.

2. Do I find the act of public urination amusing? (Ad agency: “Amusing in a light-hearted, humorous way!”) Not any more. Not since I was 12. Are 12-year old boys the target audience for this ad?

I don’t deny there’s an idea here. But like far too many advertising ideas, the distance between the brand’s personality and the ad in question is roughly equivalent to the agency amusing themselves at the brand’s expense.

Now: how did you feel about it?

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8 Responses to “Just because you can get away with it doesn’t mean you should”

  1. Carol June 9, 2012 at 7:00 am #

    Well I thought they were coming, not peeing, but I still thought it was tasteless. So to speak.

    • Doug Brown June 9, 2012 at 7:08 am #

      Oh great, thanks Carol. Now I’m going to have to change the rating on my blog to 18A!

  2. Anna June 9, 2012 at 8:45 am #

    My initial thought was this would be a great time to send some spec work to the client and pitch the account.

    • Doug Brown June 9, 2012 at 8:49 am #

      Awesome thinking Anna. With all the negative attention, the agency is probably doing something other than pissing themselves right now.

  3. Ricky June 9, 2012 at 12:05 pm #

    Maybe it’s because I’m in university and because of my choice of friends, but my first reaction to this ad was a light chuckle. I don’t really see how this is going too far even for conservative suburban mothers. They have kids who pee themselves all the time. Think about Disney movies and their massive success. Kids love them because of the magic and adventure but adults love them because of the grown up humour weaved into them. Kids think the subject matter in these movies is completely innocent, I know I did. Only when you grow up and re watch some Disney classics are you surprised that your parents ever let you watch them!

    This ad is comparable. It will make any kid laugh as they only see the innocent side: “look mommy those people peed themselves!” while the adult will grin, understanding the actual “joke”.

    Looking at it from an industry point of view like you have, Doug, you’re right. It’s not effective. Even if it hadn’t offended people, it seems like the ad team lost direction and view of their goal (to get people to the sale) and just went for a laugh.

    • Doug Brown June 9, 2012 at 2:58 pm #

      Hey Ricky! I agree that the kids will laugh. I’m not sure you’ll get as many adult grins as you may think. Parents have seen enough pee in their lifetime already – and probably heard enough poo-pee jokes too. But I may be wrong…show it to your own parents and see what they say!

  4. SMG June 17, 2012 at 3:10 pm #

    Even non-conservative mums and dads in suburbia may not appreciate the humour, as they deal with the reality of such “light-hearted and humourous” incidents with their aging parents.
    On a tv ad, Kirstie Alley may be able to share a little laugh about leakage with other mums, but print ads lack the depth to pull it off.

    • Doug Brown June 17, 2012 at 3:27 pm #

      I recognize that the ad is a clever idea, and a memorable one. Maybe advertising’s doesn’t have to be anything else. I’ve heard from many people (all men so far, incidentally) who found these ads funny. So all I’ve gathered, which I knew anyway, is that humour isn’t universal. Thanks for your two cents SMG.

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