All Articles Tagged "volkswagen"
Maybe People Need to Lighten Up? Experts Talk About Offensive Advertising, and How Companies Can Avoid It
Volkswagen was the latest company to step into a pile of controversy over an ad that some considered racist. In the ad, which ran during last night’s Super Bowl though some suspected it wouldn’t, a white man walks around his office speaking in a Jamaican accent, encouraging people to “get happy,” as the ad campaign’s motto says.
Many people, including many Jamaicans and other minorities, didn’t actually find the ad offensive.
“Personally, I was not offended. As half Guyanese, I thought it was funny,” Monique Nelson, CEO and chairm
Respect for the audience — the whole audience — is the first necessity for any marketing campaign. But there has to be more as well.
“Whenever companies are working with a concept that is foreign to their core competency, my recommendation is to work with a subject or cultural expert,” Nelson continues. “More research and more diversity on the team may not alleviate all of the issues, but some of them.”
That issue of diversity in the advertising industry is one that continues to impact the finished marketing product, particularly at a time when the consumer is increasingly diverse. Before the Volkswagen issue even reared its head, Ad Age published an op-ed by Lincoln Stephens, the founder and executive director of the Marcus Graham Project. In the article, Stephens gives tips for both aspiring marketers and the marketing industry to increase diversity in the industry. He says it’s something that both sides should work on together, with future staffers being persistent and constantly improving their skills while the execs look beyond family, friends, and assorted acquaintances for new talent.
Claudine Moore, founder of C Moore Media, an international public relations firm, agrees that there needs to be more diversity in the industry. “I have been in the business in America for the last 13 years, and the persistent lack of diversity continues to astound me, especially at senior levels. America is not changING, it has changED, and the industry needs to change too…and quickly,” she told us via email.
At the same time, Moore, a British woman of Jamaican descent who didn’t find the Volkswagen ad offensive, says we ought to be careful about labeling everything “offensive” or “racist.”
“I thought it was light-hearted and humorous, plus the actors accent was really very good,” she wrote. “I think we have to be very careful about what we deem offensive. If everything that pokes a bit of fun is taken as seriously offensive, then humor and creativity will be zapped out of the industry.”
True enough. Many of the ads that ran last night relied heavily on humor, a clever turn of phrase, or an old-fashioned sight gag. But, as Tony Balasandiran, an account supervisor at Flowers Communications Group tells us, it’s most important to understand where an attempt at humor is going to upset an audience you’re trying to reach with your message.
“The key to pushing the envelope with your marketing, without crossing the line, is actually knowing your target audience,” he wrote to us. “Effective marketing relies on the message – verbal or visual – resonating with your intended audience. Knowing means understanding – as in, understanding the cultural nuances of your audience. Without this understanding, brands will continue to find themselves on, hovering over, and inevitably crossing, the line.”
Of course, some companies, like Go Daddy, purposely court controversy as a way to stand out. “Understanding that the media landscape is cluttered and very hard to break through, marketers are taking chances with advertising that many may see as controversial, but that marketers may simply see as disruptive,” UniWorld Group’s Nelson added.
But there is a point where you can push the levels of taste, propriety, or straight up decency so far that you can alienate people. Based on the feedback we’ve been hearing about that lip-smacking Go Daddy ad, they could have done just that last night.
If you’re not into NFL football, Super Bowl parties or even Beyonce for that matter, Sunday’s big game might not be a highlight for you, but the multi-million dollar commercial advertisements might be!
You might have already seen a few ads here or there gearing up for the Super Bowl between the Baltimore Ravens and San Fransisco 49ers and the record-breaking audience it will receive, including Beyonce’s Pepsi ad for her sponsored halftime show, but there are many more to come. From big household names like Toyota to smaller, but well-established products like Mio drinks, we are anticipating some of the biggest Super Bowl commercials ready to premiere this coming Sunday evening. Are you?
The Super Bowl is more than a football game. During commercial breaks and on YouTube, companies are playing a Super Bowl of their own, competing to capture the world’s attention without embarrassing themselves. Any Real Housewives Of Atlanta fan can tell you how difficult that game is to master.
First possession of 2013 goes to Volkswagen. If you haven’t seen their ad featuring a proud Minnesotan talking like he works weekend shifts at the Jerk Pit, you clearly don’t work in a cubicle. Catch up, so you can engage in one of America’s favorite pastimes, a round of “Is That Racist?”
Does it matter that 100 Jamaicans are okay with the ad? Would it make it better if White Jamaicans existed? Do they exist? (FYI, they’re 3.2 percent of the country’s population. Yes, I Google’d and YouTube’d it. I was intrigued.) None of this really means anything. Some people find the commercial offensive. They may or may not be Jamaican.
Volkswagen knows their happy little commercial has a little edge to it. Edgy enough to talk to 100 Jamaicans. And make a back up ad. But standing out this time of year sometimes requires taking a little more risk. Success is determined by a simple premise: If the controversy outshines the product, you lose.
When the controversy puts an ad at the top of the news hour across the country, and the world collectively says, “Oh, that’s not so bad.” Companies like Volkswagen win. Bonus points if a few people say, “I love this ad” or “That’s a nice car he was driving.”
Here are a few attempts from Super Bowls past where companies have pushed the envelope to varying degrees, with varying levels of success. Is it a touchdown, or did they fumble the advertising budget?
Volkswagen unveiled the 60-second commercial, which they’ll be dishing out $8 million to air during the Super Bowl. Unfortunately for the company, they didn’t receive the response that they were expecting. According to the Daily Mail, many are outraged over the German car company’s commercial, which depicts non-Black actors speaking with Jamaican accents. In the commercial, one man is so excited to be driving a Volkswagen that he gleefully walks around his office seeking to spread the cheer among his co-workers.
People have found the ad to be an offense to Caribbean people for multiple reasons. One reason being that they feel that it implies the untrue notion that all people from the Caribbean are super relaxed and never experience stress. New York Times columnist Charles Blow recently appeared on “Starting Point With Soledad O’Brien”, where he expressed his disdain for the 60-second ad.
“I don’t like it all… It’s like blackface with voices. I don’t like that,” Blow expressed
Jamaican-born journalist for the Wall Street Journal, Christopher John Farley expressed that the accents were reminiscent of Jar Jar Binks, the widely contended Star Wars character who spoke in a Caribbean dialect.
“It’s off-putting to see the Island spirit used as a punchline… The Jamaican aesthetic–shaped by such Jamaican-born notables as Bob Marley, Marcus Garvey and the revolutionary Nanny of the Maroons–is founded on positive vibration, not mindless happiness,” penned Farley.
Tim Mahoney, executive V.P. and CMO of Volkswagen America expressed to CNN that his company had done extensive research and consulted with 100 people from Jamaica and even utilized the services of a dialect coach to ensure that the accents were non-offensive.
“We obviously did our homework to make sure that we weren’t offensive,” said Mahoney.
As with anything, there are opponents to the ad, as well as people who are for it and don’t seem to find it offensive. For example, the Today Show’s Matt Lauer, who expressed that he actually enjoyed the ad.
“I thought, If you buy this car, it puts you in a happy place… And what’s happier than the memories we all have of being on beautiful islands on island time? That’s the way I took it.”
Check out the commercial on the next page. Do you find this ad to be offensive?
Photo courtesy of YouTube