Badvertising

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Some stories are just too good not to follow and share. This one has two parts. The first is about badvertising — a creative concept that should have been killed by the agency before it ever reached the client. The second is about social media being wildly unpredictable and entertaining.

When ad and social media campaigns go bad.

When ad and social media campaigns go bad.

Adweek’s Ad Freak does an admirable job of presenting both accounts, going so far as to question whether the first one is worst campaign of the year. The badvertising is for the product of a new start-up company called Energy Sheets. You probably remember a similar product —breath freshening strips that you drop on your tongue. The effect is a hit of super-concentrated mouthwash triggered as the strip instantly dissolves. Presumably, Energy Sheets delivers the equivalent of a 5-hour energy shot via a similar quick hit. Incredibly, LeBron James is a key investor.

The entire campaign relies upon a dumb double entendre, “I Take A Sheet In The ______,” to include the pool (Caddyshack flashback anyone?), the library, and in an ad featuring the hot rapper Pitbull, on the stage. Even if you appreciate bathroom humor, as Adweek notes, do you want to promote a product that you put in your mouth with a headline that “references defecation?”  Can’t wait for the “Who gives a sheet?” gift cards.

On such dubious footing, it makes perfect sense that Energy Sheets would work with retailers like Wal-Mart to leverage the popularity of Pitbull via a social-media based contest. Like your favorite Wal-Mart store on Facebook and win a visit to that store by Pitbull. Sounds okay in theory, but the wild world of social media always has room for the unpredictable and unexpected. Enter one David Thorpe, a writer for the Boston Phoenix, who decided to have a little fun. He and a friend researched the most remote Wal-Mart store in the chain store’s chain and launched their own social media campaign to send Pitbull to Kodiak, Alaska, reachable only by plane or ferry. Already at 60,000 likes and climbing fast, the Kodiak Wal-Mart is looking more and more like the destination for Pitbull, who calls himself Mr. Worldwide. If that happens, Pitbull will have to reorient himself from hot, steamy Latin rhythm dance clubs to arctic landscapes. However, in the process, he may be able to finally answer the question, “Does a polar bear sheet in the woods?”

Update: Wal-Mart has a winner. Looks like Pitbull had better start packing his parka and lined boots for Kodiak, AK. As they used to say in the old Shake and Bake commercials, “And I helped.”

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Advertising, especially the creative side, has a long-lived reputation as the He-Man Woman-Haters Club. Just ask Peggy on MadMen. On the one hand, the creative side of this business has always set a high bar on talent. On the other, the rules have long been made by men. White men, too, but minority pressures to break into this business is a blog post for another day.

The BADVERTISING portion of the Jezebel web site takes on advertising for women.

The BADVERTISING portion of the Jezebel web site takes on advertising for women.

Certainly, in the past few decades, women have made amazing strides in ascending agency career ladders in advertising, marketing, and PR. But the work that gets produced doesn’t always win friends, especially when targeted to women. As evidence, I’d like to recommend you make the BADVERTISING wing of the Jezebel web site, which is part of the same network as Gawker. It is edited by Margaret Hartmann, who regularly weighs in on questionable advertising aimed at women. Everything from fashion ads that push the envelope by using too-young models too provocatively to sell Jeggings, to Naomi Campbell being compared with a new brand of chocolate.

What specifically brought me to the site was a headline link about Yoplait yogurt pulling a TV spot that has been accused of Promoting Eating Disorders. When I visited Jezebel, I was surprised that I had seen the commercial and it had not set off alarm bells in my head. It struck me as just one more ad telling women they could enjoy great taste and still watch their caloric intake.

However, after reading the article and the comments board, I felt like I needed some sensitivity training. Eating disorders and women’s obsessions with ideal body image are not too be taken lightly. If you have a daughter or sister grappling with anorexia or bulimia, it’s a life or death matter, and you don’t need another tv ad or late night talk show monologue sending her into a tailspin.

Many people, especially in this industry, will see this as a slippery slope. When edgy gets attention, where do you draw the line at playing it safe so as not to offend anyone. Yoplait clearly saw that enough women were disturbed by the weight anxiety issues this commercial triggered to decide to voluntarily agree to stop airing it. Since we’re talking about a lot more than hurt feelings here, I believe Yoplait made the right call.

I encourage you to follow BADVERTISING. Clearly, the site’s editor, Margaret Hartmann, is knowledgeable about advertising’s impact on women and won’t allow it be for worse. “We’ve come a long way, baby” since women having their own cigarette brand — Virginia Slims — was considered an equal rights moment. But obviously, we’ve still got a very long way to go.

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