Saturday, April 12, 2008

A Word from Our Sponsor

More and more, that word is foul.

I’ve been in the advertising and public relations business for over 30 years. In the past five years, the business has probably changed more than it did in the previous 15 – mostly due to technology.

It’s harder for advertisers to get their message across, and many have turned to the internet to spread “buzz” with viral videos. With all the clutter – no matter what the medium – a number of advertisers are turning to less-than-palatable appeals in ordered to get noticed.

Jawbone, the maker of Bluetooth devices, is one of those. They recently introduced a series of web films purporting to show that their headset seals out noise so well, users can be completely unaware of what’s going on just a few feet away.

One of those “films” is called “Medium F*****g Starch.” (With virtually no censorship on the internet, of course, it goes by the full spelling of that title.) In the spot, a total jerk of a business exec comes into a Chinese laundry and proceeds to rebuke the laundry’s owner and his entire family in an f-word laced tirade full of racist stereotypes. In the meantime, another customer waiting for his laundry gets a call that he answers on his Jawbone. Suitably insulated, he never hears the owner’s daughters and wife eventually strangle and beat the guy to death.

Naturally, the clip has received a healthy share of internet views via YouTube and others, so it’s already done its job. The trade publication Adweek headlined its coverage of the spots by saying “Jawbone Gets Edgy…” It quotes the campaign’s creator, “We're seeking to use intelligence and want people to think and contemplate and end up in our camp.”

Allow me a few observations. It’s edgy all right…the far edge of disgust. As for using intelligence, there’s none present – unless you consider racism, profanity and violence intelligent. Oh, it made me think. I think it’s one of the worst spots I’ve seen in the entire time I’ve been in the business. It’s one camp I’ll end up in only at the point of a gun.

After seeing the spots featured in a “Creativity” email I get– I had the opportunity to rate it from one to five stars. I left a comment asking if it were possible to give it a minus-five. I’ve always thought advertising was an honorable profession – despite the assaults of the critics and the historically low “trust” ratings ad practitioners get, somewhere around used-car salespersons and members of Congress. Campaigns like this make me think the critics are right.

The famous ad copywriter Ray Welch wrote a book called “Copywriter: A Life of Making Ads and Other Mistakes.” Since Ray is not too much older than I am, I enjoyed his stories of the advertising business as it once was. On the back of the book, the well-known advertising executive Jack Connors called Ray’s memoir “…a documentary of the time when advertising was fun.” That would imply that it is no longer fun. When I see Medium F*****g Starch, I know he’s right.

1 comment:

G's Cottage said...

It's a good thing I did not see this ad. Maybe I risk ignorance but I have really hemmed-in my TV and online video viewing over the past few years so I seem to miss these moments.