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Live By The Sword, Die By The Sword

Publishing Date : 22 January, 2019

Stuart White
The World in Black-N-White


100 years ago, just after the end of World War I, the only advertisements people were exposed to would have been black and white newspaper ads and some hand-painted promotions on building walls, those being the only media options available. 



However, little did anyone, not least the advertising industry, know that a promotional revolution was just around the corner, with the looming advent of the radio.  Unsurprisingly, it was in the United States, the future Mecca of all-out advertising, where the potential of this new option was first realised and thus it was that the ‘soap opera’ was born, quite literally a means whereby soap powder and similarly suitable domestic cleaning product manufacturers , began to sponsor radio serials which aired during the working day, clearly aimed at the woman of the house, at home attending to domestic duties while her husband was out earning the family crust.


By the close of the 20th century the advertising industry had moved on apace.  Post World War II, television came into its own, magazines were almost universally printed in full colour, billboards were commonplace and ads were aired in every conceivable place – on the sides of buses, written in the sky, flashed up in neon and as the New Millenium dawned, the advent of the worldwide web threw up dozens of new media opportunities hitherto undreamed of.


Today, make no mistake, advertising is big business.  Major corporations such as Coca Cola and Lever Brothers, set aside mind-boggling budget amounts to promote their products by every possible means.  We are all bombarded daily with a plethora of ads from the moment we wake up and check our smartphones through streamed news and entertainment, to social media, not to mention the mainstream media and static and moving promotional platforms.  All day and every day we are exhorted to buy this and try that – is it any wonder so many people are drowning in credit card debt?


And the history of advertising has thrown up some hugely successful client campaigns.  The aforementioned cola company is renowned for its catchy phrases and memorable ad campaigns which have successfully kept the brand at the top of its soda tree for decades.  Similarly De Beers, through successive campaigns of clever advertising, turned the diamond, essentially just a useless piece of pretty carbonaceous rock, into a highly desirable, highly prized thing of beauty, effectively pushing up the price of the gems to a cost completely out of synch with its total lack of functionality.


There have also been spectacular ad fails too   World-famous Budweiser beer appeared to be encouraging date rape with a campaign for Bud Light for which the slogans read ‘The perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night’ &   ‘The perfect beer for whatever happens’, suggesting that it is for a ‘certain type’ of a woman who is carefree, gets drunk and doesn’t care what happens to her.  The product was backed up by a Twitter marketing campaign entitled #UpforWhatever. Surely someone at Budweiser should have realised this campaign was going to be doomed from the beginning?


Then there was the gaffe by Walkers crisps.  It was a good idea on paper. Tweet a selfie using the hashtag #WalkersWave for a chance to win a ticket to the UEFA Champions League final. The company then turned the selfies into a video featuring football player Gary Lineker holding the submitted picture. So far, so good. And then…Apparently, there was no monitoring the selfies that came in and pictures of mass murderers, sex offenders, dictators and others went through which were later published by Walkers Facebook account. Ouch!


Even the biggest brands are not immune to such spectacular fails.  In 2016 McDonalds thought it would be a good idea to adopt the moral high ground with a campaign bringing up an issue their customers really didn’t want to deal with when ordering their burgers – terrorism.  The fast-food giant launched a series of billboards with a message about incidents including 9/11 and the Boston Marathon bombing, all under those famous golden arches. McDonald’s was quickly accused of capitalising on the tragedy and the campaign was consigned to history.


You’d have thought other brands might had taken heed with that last bomb – pun fully intended – but apparently not.  Only just over 2 weeks into the year but many have already condemned Gillette's latest online ad as the worst ad of 2019 with one pundit labelling it "vindictive” and “accusatory”.


Tapping into the #MeToo movement, the shaving company's new advertising campaign plays on its 30-year tagline “The best a man can get”, replacing it with “The best men can be”.  It features news clips of reporting on the #MeToo movement, as well as images showing sexism in films, in boardrooms, and of violence between boys, with a voice over saying: “Bullying, the MeToo movement against sexual harassment, toxic masculinity, is this the best a man can get?”  It goes on to encourage men to hold one another accountable for their behaviour.


Uploaded onto YouTube, the ad attracted 400,000 ‘dislikes’ versus about 100,000 ‘likes, or only 1 in 4 viewers.  Television personality and journalist Piers Morgan said on Twitter: "If Gillette made a commercial predicated on women being bad & this is how they can all be better... the same radical feminists loving this ad would go nuts.’  He has hinted he will no longer be buying any Gillette products.  Others also have vowed to now only use rival Schick, posting videos on Twitter throwing their Gillette razors in the rubbish.  



On its website Gillette, which also owns Wilkinson Sword blades and is part of the global Proctor & Gamble brand, said it was time brands acknowledged the role they played in influencing culture.  "As a company that encourages men to be their best, we have a responsibility to make sure we are promoting positive, attainable, inclusive and healthy versions of what it means to be a man,"


Hmm.  As one critic opined, it’s lucky women also buy razor blades’, implying that it may be driving away its core sales base – men!    Another tweet complained that it portrayed most men as ‘would-be sexual abusers & creeps’, which would  certainly appear to be a good way of trashing most of your core customer base. If Gillette survives this campaign in terms of sales it will be a minor miracle.    Or to put it another way, it’ll be a very close shave!

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