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Offensive Advertising

5 February 2016

I am a fan of offense, I like shock value, I find it entertaining to be offended. But I am frustrated living in a world where people are too afraid to say or do something for fear of offending someone. I’m pretty sure everything we say or do will offend someone. So why are we become increasingly worried about it?

I feel the blame lies mainly with social media. With it literally at our fingertips we are all very quick to share things that offend us. Like that guy who spread his legs too wide on the tube this morning #manspreading. We are living in an ever increasing negative world, where people jump to an outlet where they can vent to an open audience. And because it’s so easy to do so are we now more easily offended than before? Are we looking for the next image or overheard conversation to share and vocalise our displeasure about it.

Brands are becoming increasingly aware of this trend towards sharing things we find offensive, and so are pushing the boundaries with their campaigns. Some may argue brands are intentionally offending their audience to push a higher awareness of their products.

With this in mind I thought I’d share a couple of my favourites from the past 12 months…

Protein World’s ‘Are you beach body ready?’ campaign.

This ad for the weight loss meal supplements featured a bikini clad model and the slogan ‘Are you beach body ready’. The ASA received 378 complaints with members of the public claiming the ad was ‘body shaming’ and Protein World were being ‘socially irresponsible’.

Protein World’s response to these claims were unapologetic and stated that its ad did not imply that everyone should look like the model just that people should consider if they are in the shape they wanted to be for the summer. The ASA ruled that the phrase ‘Beach Body Ready’ implied an image as that shown in the ad.

The campaign inspired many spoofs but the following are my two favourites.

Carlsberg ‘are you beer body ready’ featuring an image of a bottle in a yellow bikini.

and an ad by Simply Be which had a slightly more wholesome message of ‘every body is beach body ready’ and an image of plus size model Jocelyn Corona.

My second favourite advertising campaign, to be deemed offensive, is a very recent one. Gourmet Burger Kitchen (GBK) released their new ads last month. They sparked outrage from Vegans and Vegetarians. An ad with an image of a cow and the slogan ‘they eat grass so you don’t have to’ and another with an image of a burger and the phrase ‘resistance is futile’.

GBK issued a statement in response;  

“We love our customers, and we especially love our veggie burgers. We’re just channelling our inner-carnivore a little this January in a you-can’t-be-serious-no-we’re-really-not-serious way. Still plenty of room (and burgers) for the herbivores out there.”

But the biscuit taker of my little list has to be an underground poster from the Motor Neurone Disease Association that appeared last summer.

Featuring a short paragraph from a man called Michael, 34 years old and his confession

‘Last summer I was the only person I knew who didn’t do the Ice Bucket Challenge. Five months later I was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease’

I myself shared this image on facebook with the title ‘

‘Saw this on the tube today. Not quite sure they've got their messaging right. And if this is how it works then I'm definitely due several terrible diseases, not only did I not do the ice bucket challenge but I haven't run a race for life or gone sober for October.’

And it seems I wasn’t alone in this interpretation with yet again, people taking to social media to discuss what message MNDA were trying to get across. Tweets such as ‘what’s the message here? Karma?’ or ‘Do the Ice Bucket Challenge OR ELSE. Because potential donors love being threatened’.

There has always and will continue to be value in the shock factor. Pair this with our ever increasing ease of access to social media and we are effectively creating the buzz around an ad that years ago agencies would have spent fortunes on top television spots for. And we’re doing it for free!

I say fair play to them and I look forward to the next brand who will induce a slight gasp from me and invite me to take my phone out and share a picture of it.

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