“I have always believed that writing advertisements is the second most profitable form of writing. The first, of course, is ransom notes.” This was a quip by Phillip Bernard Dusenberry, a famous American advertising executive, and was used in a landmark book on the advertising industry by Eric Clarke “The Want Makers: Inside the World of Advertising, 1988”. Dusenberry was responsible for the Pepsi slogan “The Choice of a New Generation” and was overseeing the production of the commercial with Michael Jackson when the singer’s hair caught fire. He later wrote about the incident in a 2005 book, “Then We Set His Hair on Fire: Insights and Accidents from a Hall of Fame Career in Advertising.”
In a way advertising does hold a captive audience to ransom. As one wit put it, “Advertising constantly invents cures to which there is no disease.” At times, too, the lines between truth and fiction are blurred. The Arctic explorer and ethnologist, Vilhjalmur Stefannson observed, that unethical advertising uses falsehoods to deceive the public while ethical advertising uses truth to deceive the public.
Sometimes, though, the public is not deceived and while ads catch fire and go viral, some go into a tailspin and down the chute. One of the weirder ones is an ad by the budget Australian airline Virgin Blue which wanted potential passengers to take advantage of a special low-cost offer. The ad suggested that they “chuck a sickie”. This does not mean to throw an ill person off the plane but is Australian for taking a day’s sick leave. The Head of the airline, Brett Godfrey, did not share the view that the campaign was harmless fun. He was against any support for workplace absenteeism and immediately ordered the ad to be dropped.
McDonalds did not get a break when it joined up with General Motors to give away 42 million Humvees with its Happy Meals for kids. First, there were protests about using kids to get their parents to buy gas-guzzling, environmentally unfriendly vehicles. Then the company set up a blog which said that in the eyes of kids, the Hummers were just toys. However, the negative comments by readers were not allowed so that the critics took their complaints to the entire internet and McDonald’s eventually had to end the ad. The company then tried to give away 10,000 MP3 players branded with the McDonald’s logo in Japan. This hit a major pothole when users found their free MP3 players came with 10 free songs and a Trojan virus. When they plugged them into their PCs, the virus stole their user names, passwords and other private info and sent the data to hackers. Another ad bit the dust.
Ad-ventures in using people to convey an integrated or black and white message is a distinct pitfall. Sony tried this in 2006 and quickly learnt that having a white woman holding a black woman by the jaw to promote its ceramic white Playstation Portable was a no-no. The billboard only ran in the Netherlands but yet was able to get the entire world incensed and Sony’s insensitivity. Sony had to pull the ad and apologise. Then in August 2007, the chipmakers, Intel, did something that was not quite intelligent. It ran a print ad with a man standing surrounded by six sprinters on their marks. The problem was that the man was white and the six sprinters were black and looked like they were bowing to the white man. Intel apologised and stopped the ad.
Turner Broadcasting tried to hype a cartoon series called the Aqua Teen Hunger Force and placed electronic circuit-boards with lights around Boston. People thought they were bombs left by terrorists and the authorities had to shut down two bridges, an expressway, a subway station, and a stretch of the Charles River. If you want to ad insult to injury, this is a good case. Jessica Simpson starred in commercials for Pizza Hut’s Cheesy Bites pizza and then revealed to Elle magazine that she’s allergic to wheat, tomatoes and cheese.
Which brings us to a brand new ad which I saw on Sportsmax with the new pink look of the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB). It starts off with an empty fishing boat on a beach with the WICB logo proclaiming “We are the West Indies”. A few of my colleagues spotted it and called me saying that it was a symbolic ad since “We are the West Indies” was on a boat that was going nowhere and seemed to be stuck in the sand. “Enough of this ship talk, “I responded. “Life is a beach and those who run, or in this case, ruin the show might be suns of beaches.”
This sparked as much animation as the scantily clad, red bikinied ladies in the ad, who wined, raise their legs and show off their natural endowments. Then the ad ends with a lady in red on whose bikini bottom is emblazoned the WICB logo and the words, “We are the West Indies.”
I tried to work out the significance and symbolism of this act. Is it a cheeky way of saying that the West Indies have bottomed out? Is it that we have reached rock bottom in terms of our standing in world cricket? Is this the same logo that Courtney Walsh kissed when he got his 500 wickets? Is this where our cricket and our region have got to? I suppose we could say, “Thereby hangs a tail.” However, as one friend said, the “We are the West Indies” on the woman’s posterior demonstrates clearly, if we ever needed proof, the insensitivity of the WICB to the people of the West Indies. Have we reached the bottom of the barrel? It just tells us how much we are sat upon or whatever. However, a journalist buddy of mine said that the problem was that the bikini bottom did not have enough room for the entire sentence which was, “We are the West Indies CRICKET BOARD”.
*Tony Deyal was last seen saying that putting “We are the West Indies” on a bikini bottom is deliberate and more than a mere slip of the thong.
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