Posted January 14, 2011 4:44 pm by with 7 comments

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If you were going to make a Super Bowl commercial on behalf of the United States of America, how would you do it? That’s the question Harper’s Magazine asked a group of ad execs and it got me thinking about the right way and the wrong ways to advertise any product.

For example. Super Bowl commercials tend to be funny and over the top, but is that anyway to sell patriotism? An ad that pits Victoria’s Secret models against Obama in a cherry pie eating contest will certainly garner attention and it’s pretty likely that everyone will still be talking about it a day later. But is buzz all you need to call a commercial a success? What if the reason people are talking is because they were offended by the ad. Certainly there would be a large segment of the population who felt it was inappropriate. Does it matter? Is bad buzz as welcome as good buzz?

Look at those Allstate insurance ads that poke fun at how Mayhem can ruin your life. Car accidents are no laughing matter and yet these commercials are getting a lot of attention and are probably causing an uptick in sales.

Which brings me back to the Super Bowl. Doritos recently pulled down an entry from their Doritos Crash the Super Bowl ad contest page because it was offensive. The ad showed a priest so desperate to get more money in the collection plate, he offers Doritos instead of a wafer for communion. Pepsi removed the video after they received complaints not because they themselves, thought using religious parody to sell snacks was a bad move.

The question here is not where do you draw the line, but is there a line? With so little time to get your point across, is it worth offending a few customers in order to get the bigger buzz? What do you think?

And if you want to know how the agencies said they’d advertise America, check out this month’s issue of Harper’s which hits the stands next week.

Thanks to AdAge for the head’s up.

  • Depends on the product, the brand and the current/prospective customers you’re trying to reach.

    For Doritos, all buzz is good buzz; the headlines they got from pulling the offending spot are nothing but helpful.

    For Allstate, the Mayhem device is far more palatable, productive and appropriate than raw car wreck scenes. The buzz is positive, as the campaign’s entertaining and remarkable.

    For America/patriotism, there’s absolutely a line. Your Obama/model/pie contest would cross it.

    There are definitely lines – but you feel them more than see them. If it feels right for your product, brand and customers, there shouldn’t be any concern about the reaction/buzz.

  • I think that advertising is best to follow the same rule that most people use for business – don’t talk about politics or religion. While the numbers offended initially could be on the low side the fuss they could raise on the other side may not be worth the risk. There are plenty of other areas to get people’s attention outside of these two fire starters.

    Shocking someone for buzz is fine but when you strike in an area where there can be an intense passionate response you are treading on thin ice. Just my 2 cents.

  • I’d simply like to second what Ethan says: It strongly depends on the product and the main target. We have quite the same discussion here in Germany as well so at least you don’t have to feel alone 🙂

    Best regards,

  • Cynthia,

    In my opinion, any buzz is good for a business. It does not matter how it is perceived in the beginning because people can eventually change their minds about a company. Take a fast food restaurant for example. People may hate Wendy’s commercials. However, if they eat there and like the food, then the commercial doesn’t matter anymore. Their experience with the food is going to determine how they actually feel about it in the end. There is always going to be people that like you and don’t like you. However, if the main focus is on delivering value, the company will still become successful. The bad buzz is short term and will not make a huge impact on the company’s success.

  • t strongly depends on the product and the main target.

  • I am not so sure about this that the negative ad sales more than the positive. It is scientificaly proved that when you provoke positive emotions (unconscious) inside the people they will buy from this brand instead of this which provikes a negative emotions.

  • Super Bowl is a great place for the advertisers to create buzz. With a target of more than 90 million people watching the event, the advertisers should not offend some people for the sake of the a ‘buzz’. The product and the target market matters.