Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Company Making Good-Tasting Drinks Needs Better-Tasting Ads

Communicators and others must deal with a wide gray area between proper and offensive. Do you say "Merry Christmas? or "Happy Holidays?" Once I had a woman complain because I wrote "more bang for the buck" because she thought it was obscene.

But how could anyone at Pepsico miss the tasteless ad run for Mountain Dew? The brand primarily is marketed to young men and sometimes tries its hand at edgier spots. But enough people felt insulted that Pepsi pulled it off the air.

This seems like a no-brainer to me. "Did Pepsi really think this ad was OK? The ad—which was part of a series developed by African-American rapper Tyler, The Creator, and depicted a battered white woman on crutches being urged to identify a suspect out of a lineup of black men—was so over-the-top wrong, one wonders how a corporate marketing team wouldn't see the potential backlash." (

Laura Ries, president of the Atlanta marketing firm Ries & Ries, called this "street cred." I think the e should have been a u. "If Pepsi had created an ad for Mountain Dew, for example, she said it might not have been considered edgy or cool. But by handing over control to a celebrity, she said the company ran the risk of having an ad that wasn't appropriate, an AP news release reports."

Every ad I've ever been involved in needed approvals from several people several times. If opinions about offensiveness had been mixed, I would have paid a little bit for a focus group instead of paying a lot for production that went out with yesterday's garbage.

Pepsi issued a statement, "We apologize for this video and take full responsibility. We have removed it from all Mountain Dew channels and Tyler is removing it from his channels as well."

Management of Odd Future, the hip-hop collective led by Tyler, the Creator, issued a statement apologizing and insisting the ad was taken out of context. "It noted the men in the ad's lineup are Tyler's friends and Odd Future members.
The artist 'absolutely never intended to spark a controversy about race,' the statement said. 'It was simply an, again, admittedly absurd story that was never meant to be taken seriously.'"

It's not like no one could have seen this crisis coming. Mountain Dew recently took heat because of its endorsement deal with Lil Wayne, whose rap lyrics compared a rough sex act to the tortuous death of a black teen who was murdered in 1955 for whistling at a white woman. Last month, Reebok ended its agreement with Rick Ross after he rapped about giving a woman drugs to have his way with her.

Street cred has no place in the business world. At least not yet. Be funny without being offensive. Don't be afraid to try focus groups. Make sure copy goes through the execs in the corner offices. Usually, if something causes you to hesitate, it probably should be junked.

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