With social media providing platforms to vocalise consumer disdain, can brands still push the boundaries to stand out?
The world becoming more politically correct has resulted in many major steps forward for society, including human rights and equal opportunity (recent postal votes notwithstanding). But many speak of a nanny state in which certain freedoms of expression have been lost.
With social media providing consumers with an always-on platform, right in their pockets, to vocalise their disdain instantly and at scale, brands have become more reluctant to push the boundaries in their advertising. Naturally, brands must adhere to the codes of conduct as well as social mores in what they say and how they say it, ensuring they don’t offend the public. But often, this results in overly cautious attitudes among brands, and prevents moments of clever branding.
In 2004, when BMF made the award-winning, global-storming 'Tongue' TVC for Tooheys Extra Dry, the public outcry was immense. What started with letters to the national newspapers – these were pre-Facebook days – soon became a media frenzy, which only whipped up more consumer comment until pages of complaints were being printed daily.
Yet, under the auspice of ECD Warren Brown (the B in BMF), whose relationship with the client was very strong, Tooheys held their ground and kept the ad running. Even when the negative sentiment seemed positively tsunamic, they heeded Warren’s words (which were heard first-person and cannot be repeated verbatim here).
And soon, the tide turned. The core audience, possibly fed up with their new icon of cool being so tarred and feathered, stood up and spoke back. With force. The primary audience of 18-24 year olds loved the commercial. And, in turn, loved the brand, literally lapping it up in bars and bottleshops. So much so, that Tooheys increased freight logistics to keep up supply to meet the demand.
The audience spoke, loud and clear: If you don’t like the ad, then don’t drink the beer. But, we love it.
That ad went on to be a seminal piece of Australian advertising that, partly due to its outlandishness and partly due to its creative circumvention of the laws governing alcohol advertising, became a turning point for many beer brands, both here and overseas.
To more recent times now, when the boating, camping and fishing retailers BCF launched their campaign with the whimsical TV jingle whose chorus crescendos with "BCF'ing fun", consumers revolted vocally. The Advertising Standards Bureau (ABS) fielded the complaints and, thankfully, upheld the ad.
Ordinarily, such a process involves the advertiser (or agency) responding to the ABS with their argument for why the ad is not offensive. I’d love to see that particular rebuttal.
The BCF’ing brand lived on, perhaps bolstered by an acquisition of customers who liked their tone of voice. By being less worried about being ‘on-brand’ and more focused on being ‘on-consumer’, BCF resonated with their target audience, making the retailer more relevant than ever. This exemplifies the old marketing adage of “get a laugh and make a sale”.
Fans of Ch9’s The Block will have seen the clumsy product placement of YouFoodz, one of the show’s advertising partners. And if they weren’t fast-forwarding the ad breaks, they will have seen their far less clumsy TVC. In it, a young Gordon Ramsay interpretation, acted with gusto by a scruffy kid, angrily delivers the lines “two forkin’ minutes” and “un-forkin’believable!”.
One can only imagine the complaints on this. But with the kid holding out a fork, and enunciating the line clear enough to NOT be swearing, the ad is still on the air. The client’s bravery should be commended, because among the tedium that is much of today’s advertising, YouFoodz gives you a jolt to the funny bone. The dialogue is disruptive, but not obstructive. It wakes you from your TV coma – did he just say that?! – and makes you pay attention. To YouFoodz. That brand name again: YouFoodz. Well done. Make mine a Chicken Katsu Curry.
The ASB has received a number of consumer complaints about YouFoodz's forkin' Ramsay impression and has (unfortunately) ruled against the ad. The brand defended the ad by arguing that it did not actually contain obscene words, and that the actor is holding a fork – the only item needed to consume their ready-made meals – while saying the lines.
But the ASB said "The majority of the Board however noted that whilst most members of the community would not expect a child to actually say the word ‘fucking’ in a television advertisement, in the Board’s view the way the young boy says the word ‘forkin’’ makes it sound very close to the strong swear word it is clearly imitating.”
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