WARNING: This post contains descriptions and link to very offensive videos and imagery (of mainstream advertizing) and also, the f-word.
Can you recognize this hot Hollywood actor turned producer early in his career? He managed to win the Twitter game by amassing the most followers. At no time in history has someone been able to communicate instantly with over 10 million people without any artificial intermediary or filter. He is the de-facto leader of twenty-somethings and he has used his immense power to inspire his follower everyday and his unique position at the center of a creative generation to develop more projects each year than most people get to do in a lifetime. He has also used his fame to bring attention to the problem of sex trafficking, a cancer that keeps growing as it confirms without a doubt how our super-consumer society has made young men and women consumable commodities. When Colin Powel, in 2003, called child sex trafficking “The worst kind of human exploitation imaginable” it got very little traction and it was this half of Hollywood’s biggest power couple who brought the subject back to the forefront and to the attention of a younger generation of people.
And now he gives us this gem:
I am not the target audience for this commercial. It makes absolutely no sense to me. It is neither funny nor witty. Even the Karl Lagerfeld impersonation bit is not funny. It’s hard to watch and embarrassing. Would I identify the portrayal of Raj in the PopChips commercial as racist? I am not sure. Every time a character is played by someone who is not from the same culture whether in a dramatized role (see Reel Injun) or in a lampoon it has the potential of creating a true WTF? moment regardless of race. But, I don’t really think I am qualified to make that judgement, I can only see a commercial that contributes nothing to our culture but that is a mainstay of advertising.
Luckily, Hasan Minhaj comes to the rescue to explain how and why this commercial is offensive.
Also, in a recent article dated May 2, Anil Dash says: “Popchips should not pull this ad down: Instead, they should leave it up and link to not an apology, but an explanation of how their process failed and resulted in this racist ad being created.”
I totally agree! It is out there, removing it doesn’t help.
So let’s pretend we are in Media School and not in Pop Culture School for a second.
You know what I would love to see? A documentary about how unfortunate marketing efforts are created, specifically those that bomb on social media.
I really want to know what is the process by which such offensive commercial campaigns get made? I am not talking about advertizing that is lame and unremarkable, but about the true winners of the un-coveted WTF? Awards. In the past year we have seen feminist media dissect many surprisingly offensive campaigns, many of which have found a home on this eye-opening Tumblr.
Here is an example of a fascinating brand I have been watching for over a decade : Axe.
Axe is THE most fascinating demonstration of a company that sells air, or rather the promise that the air around you will smell so enticing to brainless petty moronic women that they will literally kill each other for the opportunity to rape you. That’s quite the promise! I am allergic to fragrance BUT I can recognize the value of the first company that encourages men to embrace a higher level of hygiene by WASHING rather than only adding fragrance. And, in a mind-bogging twist, I have received reports that the product actually works! The only problem is that when Axe delivers on their promise of female attention, guys run against the unfortunate realization that women are generally not brainless petty morons. This sexist advertizing narrative sells young men a woman that doesn’t even exist. By being neither helpful to men, nor women, Axe runs the risk of getting tossed into the bin of products that do more harm than good like porn, drugs, cigarettes and booze.
While I think that Axe is widening the gap between men and women inadvertently, other advertisers are purposefully pitting men against women, and now husband against wife, to increase sales. Whether we are put off by the company that wants to install itself as the place for men to pay their “Sorry-honey-I-fucked-up” fine by selling them a product whose relevancy is fast declining or the company that decided to show a wife being physically abusive to her husband (and innocent bystander) in their Superbowl commercial, we have to communicate to advertisers that these messages are in no way helpful to us as a society.
Advertizing (Social Media, TV, Movies and Magazines) are made by huge teams of people who are supposed to shoot down really bad ideas at some point in the process. How many people okayed this PopChips campaign? Are we seeing a process where the star is so powerful in the creative process that all others involved dare not question his ideas? Is this a question of everybody “Just doing their job of going along” because being unemployed is way worse than being paid to make crappy commercials. The issue could be elsewhere but since Kutcher is IN THE AD, the resulting backlash is attached to his image so we have to consider him the principal creative inspiration.
Social media has become the place where people who are completely unrelated to the process and independent in their opinion to question sexist advertizing, racially insensitive speech and all around bad ideas. It’s interesting to see cognitive surplus benefit the evolution and changing of ideas amongst young people. Where advertizing used to be delivered into a vacuum it is now being put into context and dissected by regular people, those who are targeted by the ads. Their opinion matters.
I personally abhor advertizing and I have made every effort to avoid watching TV commercials passively since the invention of Tivo. TV Commercials are like sitcoms or record labels; concepts whose time has simply passed. If you are playing the TV commercial game, your message has to be really great to get away from being delivered in such an old-fashioned and quaint way.
What I do love are new media initiatives that create experiences which are more than self-serving brand delivery methods. Pepsi’s user-generated and voted grant program comes to mind as a socially responsible, engaging and endearing activity. I was totally delighted to see a charismatic black man become the supreme representation of all that is manly and sexy all-the-while bringing back to life a dowdy vintage brand associated with old people smell. While the basic medium was video, the execution relied on social media interactions. At this point all I ask if for brands to relate to regular people rather than rely on artificial eye candy. When given the chance we will be inspired and recognize the awesome, the clever, the innovative and the smart. I personally prefer to be inspired by your brand story and educated about your (hopefully ethical) business practices rather than be subjected to subliminal tricks that appeal to basic human instincts such as the hunger-inducing color-scheme of an old-fashioned hotel chain.
We know the tricks, now is the time to dazzle us with authenticity!
You know what I would love to see? A documentary about how unfortunate marketing efforts are created, specifically those that bomb on social media. For instance, a Vodka, I sincerely thought was classy and high-end ran an ad that made me wonder “How much did it cost to create this ad which gives me and everyone else the impression it was created by immature dudes (read: intern) who spent the last 4 years in a frat house?”. In fact you should explain to me in great visual details the creative process of delivering a magazine ad that positions your high end men’s clothing by showing how your exquisite silk ties can be used to strangle a woman on the hood of a fancy vintage car (warning: many offensive images appear on this page). No, really, I want to be right there in the room when an ad Ad Executive explained OUT LOUD his aspirational theory that men want to be rich so they can dispose of women after use by murdering them. Ot maybe that scene should find its way into American Psycho 3… Furthermore, may I see the actual result of your efforts, whether positive or negative, not just on the bottom line but on your staff morale, ad agency relationship, business decision-making process or brand story? Really, I want to know!
I understand that the principals involved would not want to participate in such a thing… and, also, that no team of people sets out to purposefully bomb badly all-the-while conveniently having a camera crew on hand to record the train wreck for DOXA. But I would be the first person to enjoy gaining a valuable insight into the making of a truly bad social media/advertizing campaign.
And Ashton, I remain a follower of your work and career… but while we’re at it… please make more Beauty and the Geek!