Fuss after ‘stimulating’ advertising campaign: often not as ‘accidental’ as it seems

Fuss after ‘stimulating’ advertising campaign: often not as ‘accidental’ as it seems
Fuss after ‘stimulating’ advertising campaign: often not as ‘accidental’ as it seems

“My first reaction to Balenciaga’s campaign: it’s pretty sick. Especially that statement with that text hidden in it. A bizarre detail. This creative director is known for rather outspoken campaigns with a lot of satire, but here he goes a step further too far. This isn’t satire anymore.”

Reference to child abuse

So says Joeri Jansen, creative director at advertising agency Roorda. He himself is not at all averse to high-profile campaigns that look for the edge, he says, on the contrary: “We should be very happy with advertisers who nowadays still dare to look for the edges. And then you can occasionally go on your mouth . That happened here.”

It is about the controversial campaign of the exclusive Spanish clothing brand Balenciaga. This allowed young children to pose with teddy bears wearing straps and harnesses that are popular in the (erotic) bdsm world. The ‘hidden statement’ concerns a text that appears on one of the photos: it refers to a notorious US court case (Ashcroft Free Speech Coalition), which ruled that virtual images (i.e. fake images) of child abuse were legal.

Balenciaga has since apologized for the campaign after a storm of criticism.

Exactly this state of affairs – campaign on or over the edge, fuss, apologies – seems to happen so often that you can wonder if they are still ‘accidents’. A small selection from the oeuvre: Samsung let a woman jog alone through a dark city (as if it were safe), McDonalds sold Sundae Bloody Sundae ice creams, H&M made a black boy wear a sweater with the text ‘coolest monkey in the jungle’ , Gucci took a ‘blackface’ jersey off the market and supermarket chain Jumbo had a group of construction workers show up in the campaign for the World Cup (painful, because of the many fatal accidents with construction workers in Qatar).

In all those cases, a fuss followed, and then an apology.

“You can indeed see a pattern,” says consumer psychologist Patrick Wessels. “Sometimes they completely accidentally miss the mark, such as Jumbo. That company focuses on the masses. They do not want that fuss at all. But the reverse also happens, of course: smart guys ensure that a campaign rubs, because that draws attention.”

‘Balenciaga thinks fuss is fine’

This is especially true for a brand like Balenciaga, says Wessels, because it wants to be distinctive, bold and original. “That also applies to a company like Suitsupply. They did campaigns with naked women, with men who seem to oppress women, with men kissing. You know: that will generate discussion. That is not a coincidence, that is the strategy. This is what they want radiate.”

Such brands, often in the higher segment, want a reputation as a brand that resists ‘patronizing rules’. “Balenciaga probably likes this fuss,” Wessels thinks. “They want to attract a target group that opposes the masses.”

Apologies. Finished. Further.

Advertiser Jansen feels the same way: “I wonder if it will hurt them. Most aficionados of this brand absolutely hate this. They’re pretty quick to ignore this kind of ethics, I think.”

The brand will not lose any sleep over it either, he expects: “They will come up with a statement containing the apologies, and that’s it. Continue.”

Jansen points to the collaboration between the brand and the controversial musician Kanye West, now called Yé. “That man is constantly crossing all kinds of boundaries, but yes, it generates attention, and he is popular. Fans of the brand will think: a little fuss is part of it.”

Cancel culture

Jansen emphasizes that such cases, in which the advertising indeed goes ‘over the edge’, should not deter you from continuing to look for that edge. “I am glad that there are still brands that still dare to push the boundaries. You should not think that we only make advertisements that are safe and well-behaved.”

He therefore urges colleagues and companies to ‘not test everything to pieces beforehand’. “Society is currently very busy with everything that invites you to cancel and criticize. The nerve is very open.”

The result, says Jansen, is that anything that could possibly cause a fuss, by definition also leads to a fuss. “Someone is always offended. That is precisely why we should not want to do everything safely. If you do, then everything will disappear under the suffocating blanket of the cancel culture. We have to create a fuss every now and then. your mouth. Fine. That’s part of it.”

The Rules of the Catholic Church

He recalls the historic campaigns of the Benetton clothing brand in the 1990s: “They had campaigns that dealt with relevant issues, such as AIDS, homosexuality and the rules of the Catholic Church. Relevant issues. Of course we have to deal with such things consciously, but I think it is important that we continue to do so. Keep attacking the sacred cows.”

The article is in Dutch

Tags: Fuss stimulating advertising campaign accidental

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