Smart or Sinister? 5 Ad Campaigns That Blur the Lines

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Companies often lean on social and political movements to evoke an emotional response in their viewers. A number of recent ad campaigns have capitalized on political and humanitarian events to make a sale. For example, powerful brands like JEEP and Audi have aired commercials that reference the refugee crisis and other topical events. Emotional advertisements are even more likely to rate well with viewers than adventurous or sexually provocative ads. But is it sinister to toy with viewers’ emotions to make a sale? Here are some ads that may raise your pulse and your eyebrows.

JEEP: “Beautiful Lands”

In Jeep’s 2015 Super Bowl ad, scenes from around the world are paired with an American folk song. The point of the commercial is to applaud global diversity, driven home by the “The World is a Gift” slogan at the end. Turns out, some people weren’t digging Jeep’s message of inclusivity—viewers called out Jeep’s inclusion of a woman in a hijab as an insincere gesture towards the American Muslim community. All in all, the advertisement is pretty innocuous and didn’t spark the kind of outrage we recently saw with Pepsi. However, there is something slightly off-putting in using tokenism to sell cars—and Tokenization.Sucks.

Audi: “Daughter”

Audi recently aired an ad calling for equal pay for women. The touching narrative shows a father cheering on his daughter at a derby cart race. The message is sound, but the execution is questionable at best. For one thing, saying that Audi believes in equal pay for equal work is just saying that they believe in following the law without offering any solutions for continuing disparities. You’ll also notice that this pro-women commercial is narrated entirely by a man. Did they miss the mark a bit with this one?

Nationwide Insurance: “Make Safe Happen”

The “Make Safe Happen” commercial by the Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company depicts the story of a young boy who dies in a tragic (and implicatively preventable) accident. The ad aired during the 2015 Super Bowl. Despite being memorable, the ad got quite a bit of flak. The manipulative nature of the ad stood out like neon lights against the backdrop of the Super Bowl, an otherwise rowdy, exciting and positive occasion. Nationwide misread what people wanted, and their ad came across as tone deaf, as well as incredibly insensitive to anyone who has lost a child in a tragic incident.

Dove: “Choose Beautiful”

Dove’s “Choose Beautiful” ad encourages women to label themselves as beautiful instead of average. The ad meant well but caused quite a stir, serving as the catalyst for the resignation of a BuzzFeed editor who criticized the ad. Intended to be empowering, the Dove ad comes across as patronizing. The ad performed well, though, and sparked controversy and conversation—which is great if you believe in the “all press is good press” mantra.

Refugees Welcome: “Search Racism, Find Truth”

Not all advertisements are underhanded or sinister. The Berlin-based organization Refugees Welcome have paid to air pro-immigration advertisements before online content linked to search terms such as “refugee terrorists” “immigrants don’t integrate” and “asylum seekers out”. The ad campaign, called “Search Racism, Find Truth” directly targets viewers searching racist keywords and offers them a different point of view. Refugees Welcome isn’t using an important social message to sell a product, it’s causing change by addressing the refugee crisis directly and with purpose.

The Takeaway

Ads can be moving and inspiring, but they can also toy with viewers’ emotions to make a sale. Know of an ad campaign that just plain sucks? Join the conversation today with custom URLs like SketchyAdvertising.Sucks or SellingCrisis.Sucks and tell the world what you really think.

Image: Shutterstock / Savvapanf Photo


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