Adland's hall of shame

By James Hamilton, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 03 August 2007 12:00AM

Whether simply a sign of the times, or a severe lapse in taste, adland has made some politically incorrect howlers over the years.

1890: PEARS' SOAP

Advertising in the high summer of the British Empire was an altogether simpler business. It's doubtful that this press ad for Pears' Soap even passed the planner's desk, let alone underwent a rigorous Millward Brown link-test.

The result is a strong example of advertising that reflects the attitudes of the age. The map of the world was predominantly pink. The population that wasn't, was, by definition, inferior. With incisive strategic vision, Pears grasped this fundamental truth of the way things work and applied it to soap. No doubt IPA Effectiveness Awards and D&AD Pencils would have rained down upon the campaign had those noble institutions existed at the time.

2005: VOLKSWAGEN POLO "SUICIDE BOMBER"

How best to defuse taut relations between ethnic communities in these times of heightened security, when suicide bombings are on the front pages with depressing regularity? How about depicting a Middle-Eastern man as a would-be Jihadist to score a cheap gag for Volkswagen?

Achieving cut-through in the choked landscape of poorly judged virals is no mean feat. Doing it with such a breathtaking lack of foresight elevates "suicide bomber" into the big league. What were its creators - Lee Ford and Dan Brooks - thinking?

Well, according to the duo, they were merely reflecting "what people see in the news every day". Oh, and they never meant for anyone to see it. In the spot, which mysteriously "escaped" into the ether, an Arab type wearing something strapped around his waist leaves home, drives to a cafe in a Volkswagen Polo and detonates a bomb, but the car contains the explosion.

VW and its agency, DDB, didn't see the funny side, and the car-maker launched a law suit against the creatives, only to drop it when they signed statements admitting VW had nothing to do with the ad's creation, and publicly apologised.

2003: HOLSTEN PILS

"It's what's inside that counts"

TBWA thought it would be hilarious to use a woman with a facial disfigurement to give human form to the concept that "it's what's inside that counts". Loaded readers presumably loved it. Women across the country were less than impressed, however.

Trevor Beattie's defence, that if it had been for a disability charity, it would have been fine, is all well and good, but it wasn't - it was a crude attempt to flog lager.

1961: KENWOOD CHEF "THAT'S WHAT WIVES ARE FOR"

Ah, the 60s ... a decade in which the disenfranchised found a voice; when a student revolt could topple a corrupt regime; when women freed themselves of the shackles of their bras and burned them in protest.

All of which was a world-and-a-half away in the genteel Havant of 1961, where Kenwood was still knocking out fantastically sexist press advertising for its swelling range of household appliances, flogging them with the strapline: "I'm buying my wife a Kenwood."

It's hard to find a jewel in the crown of patronising advertising aimed at post-war housewives, but this press ad may just be that. In it, women are reduced to little more than oven operators. The Kenwood Chef will do the rest ...

1979: SILK CUT "GARRISON"

Was there a shortage of black actors in 1979, or did CDP merely have trouble filling the highly questionable role of the chief of Mbongoland, a warmongering Zulu-style warrior whose tribe was laying siege to a British garrison fort.

Either way, the choice of a blacked-up John Bird for the part was a pretty poor one by CDP, an agency with form on the politically incorrect front: one ad that narrowly missed a place in this feature was a CDP spot for Rawlings Tonic Water, featuring an Indian manservant called Tandoori. Shilpa Poppadom, anyone?

2000: YVES SAINT LAURENT "OPIUM"

Is it crude, suggestive and degrading to use the image of a supine naked woman, legs akimbo, to flog perfume? The Advertising Standards Authority and 948 members of the British public thought so.

The infamous ad, featuring the model Sophie Dahl enjoying a private moment, ran in a number of women's magazines before making the leap to poster sites.

It's hard to fathom fashion advertising at the best of times, but the naivety in thinking this ad was going to do anything but cause widespread outrage beggars belief: this is England, after all, not France, where the nipple is the basic currency of advertising.

The ASA didn't buy Yves Saint Laurent's argument that the ad was "sensual and aesthetic" and, like an errant teenager with an Asbo, the perfumier was forced to submit all Opium posters to the Committee of Advertising Practice Copy Advice team for pre-clearance for the next two years.

1971: MINI "EASY TO DRIVE"

Women, eh? What were they good for in the 70s? Cooking and cleaning and listening to Demis Roussos, that's about all. You certainly wouldn't want to come face-to-face with one behind the wheel of an automobile. With their insistence on using the rear-view mirror to check their make-up; their constant chatter and their complete lack of spatial awareness, you'd be asking for autogeddon were you to let one loose on the roads.

Such insights clearly informed Wasey Pritchard Wood & Quadrant's 1971 press campaign for the launch of the Mini Automatic, a car ideally suited for drivers of the fairer sex, because it had one pedal fewer to think about.

2003: EASYJET "WEAPONS OF MASS DISTRACTION"

Picture the scene in the creative cauldron that is easyJet's marketing department in the long, hot summer of 2003. The Western alliance has just routed Saddam Hussein in a war waged in the belief the Iraqi dictator had stockpiles of nerve gas and anthrax. Media speculation as to the whereabouts of these weapons was rife. How could a low-cost airline best utilise the dwindling trust in Blair's government to flog a few cheap flights?

The answer is as old as advertising - add a pair of large breasts and dig out the pun generator from the copywriting toolkit. The perfect recipe for a trademark ill-conceived easyJet stunt.

This hymn to the noble art of copywriting demonstrates that the crap pun is still the sharpest tool in advertising's box:"Discover weapons of mass distraction." How we laughed.

2004: MR KIPLING "NATIVITY"

Adland certainly wouldn't ridicule Judaism for its beliefs, and after Salman Rushdie's experience with his novel The Satanic Verses, and the Danish cartoon scandal, no sane creative would dare put forward a script based around an Islamic-themed joke. So why is Christianity fair game?

Saatchi & Saatchi displayed its disregard for religious sensibilities with a viral spot for Mr Kipling - surely one of the least controversial brands of all time - that featured a nativity play in which "Mary" gave birth live on stage.

Interestingly, though, it was only the second most complained about ad in 2004 - the top honours went to Channel 4 for its poster pastiche of Leonardo Da Vinci's Last Supper, populated by the distinctly un-godly cast of Shameless.

2001: HAMLET "DWARVES"

Hamlet has given us some great advertising in the past: the Baldy Man and his photobooth disaster; the golfer stuck in the sandtrap on the 16th; the motorcycle sidecar passenger separated from his rider.

In comparison, CDP's poster for a range of miniature cigars doesn't quite come up to scratch.

It's hard to nail exactly why they don't work as well as their illustrious predecessors. It could be that the Hamlet message doesn't translate well to press. Perhaps it's the absence of the trademark music. Or maybe it's because CDP used dwarves and midgets unable to urinate to score a cheap gag about height and size.

In what came across as a desperate attempt to justify the ads at the time, the CDP joint executive creative director Andy Amadeo said: "We spoke to many dwarves, all of whom loved the idea." Sadly, Amadeo didn't speak with the Restricted Growth Association, which complained that the ad was "offensive and vulgar, especially because it ridiculed short people". The ASA agreed, and told Gallagher not to use the poster again.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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