Creative Licence – How Far Is Too Far?
Creativity, they say, has the power to change the world. It can help solve problems. No matter how complex they might appear to be. It can help change perceptions. It can make one cola brand look way more appealing than the other. It can make you believe that applying a particular brand of cream could make your skin glow brighter. It can turn a ‘who the hell is Tommy Hilfiger’ into ‘the Tommy Hilfiger’, literally overnight.
In the hallowed corridors of advertising business, creativity is literally worshipped on an altar. And for obvious reasons. Creativity, in advertising, and the talent that can conjure it, is rare. The ability to think of a powerful idea that makes a campaign click and boost sales is worth its weight in gold in advertising business.
However, there is a flipside to this as well. In a world where millions of brands are literally clawing at each other to gain consumer attention, often, in the name of clutter-breaking creativity, a lot of absurdity is served. Labelled as path-breaking or attention-grabbing work of ‘advertising art’.
So how far is too far? What should be the limiting volume for creative juices to flow? Well clearly, there is no yardstick. However, the impact of a bad creative advertisement is a lot heavier than just embarrassment for the brand and the advertising agency. Often leading to the brand facing a backlash from agitated consumers, its sales diminishing and its image taking a major hit.
Here are a few advertisements that clearly show that if not measured and applied properly, creativity can do a lot of damage to a brand’s reputation.
The Pepsi ‘Live For Now’ Fiasco
Pepsi’s advertisements have always been huge in terms of production values and have been adorned by A-listers like Michael Jackson, Lionel Messi, Beyonce and more, over the years. Their 2017 TV ad featuring fashion icon Kendall Jenner was no different.
The ad begins in the backdrop of a peaceful protest march. Kendall too joins in, shedding her wig, make-up and everything seems to be building up rather well. It ends with Kendall offering a Pepsi to one of the police officers who accepts it. And it all seems like Kendall and Pepsi have saved the day!
However, what went disastrously wrong was the timing and the setting of this ad. During the period the ad was aired, a lot of protests and riots were taking place in America in support of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ campaign. The ad derived its ‘inspiration’ from these protests and in the process, undermined the whole ‘Black Lives Matter’ campaign. And the weird ‘Pepsi saves the day’ ending made it all the more demeaning.
As a result, Pepsi had to pull this ad off within 24 hours of it being aired, after issuing a public apology. And as for Kendall Jenner, she believed this to be the most embarrassing moment of her professional career, ever.
Protein World – Cashing In On Body Shaming
Health supplement company – Protein World, in 2015, released an outdoor campaign in London and New York featuring a bikini clad model with the slogan ‘Are you beach body ready?’ The objective was to promote their product to users wanting perfect beach bodies for summer.
However, the ads faced significant backlash over social media and in some locations the hoardings and posters were even vandalised. These ads without a doubt promoted ‘body shaming’. They glorified a certain body type and relegated others to not being acceptable as ‘beach bodies’. This particularly did not go down well with the public.
Surprisingly, Protein World stood by its ad campaign and in the process, garnered more hate on social media. Particularly for its responses to dissenters, branding them as #fattysympathisers, taking shots at feminists who raised their voice against the ad.
Dove’s Skin Colour Misadventure
In 2017, Dove, a global skincare giant, released an ad on Facebook which truly embarrassed it to bits. It featured a black woman transforming into a white woman after using Dove’s lotion! The ad showed a black woman remove her top to reveal a white woman underneath.
The ad was obviously perceived as being grotesquely racist and offending to the viewers. Unilever, owners of the brand, were quick to apologise and remove the ad from Facebook. However, this wasn’t Dove’s first offence. They had done something quite similar in 2011 as well. Where, in an ad, a black woman had turned into a white one using their lotion. Clearly, this was a case of repeat offence. But the scarier part is, someone in their marketing department was approving such ads.
The hate these ads garnered on social media for the brand was significant. And justifiably so. It showed that people don’t forget such ads. And a brand’s reputation thus tarnished takes years and big measures to rebuild.
These examples clearly show how badly planned and executed creative thinking in advertising that does not take into account the sentiments and sensibilities of people, does a lot more harm than good.