CAMPAIGN CRAFT: Column; Though at the cutting edge, Pepe slices too deep

The latest Pepe jeans commercial - guns, bloody noses, a teenager spinning in a washing machine, all filmed in glorious ‘wobblycam’ - has been banned.

The latest Pepe jeans commercial - guns, bloody noses, a teenager

spinning in a washing machine, all filmed in glorious ‘wobblycam’ - has

been banned.

There is a theory that the client may not be displeased. The theory is

that getting banned can only increase street cred, and as increasing

street cred is the raison d’etre of the ad, getting banned may be no bad


Nor would this be the first client to welcome the opprobrium of the

authorities. There is quite a fashion for setting out, Benetton style,

to be as controversial as possible.

OK, so such an exercise becomes less of an ad and more of a cynical PR

stunt. Who cares, as long as it does the job?

On one level, certainly not me. Selling (in the broad sense) is a clear

responsibility for advertising people. If an ad that shocks can generate

more free media interest than a conventional paid-for schedule, how can

it be wrong?

Here’s how: we have a responsibility other than selling and, in my view,

it is a greater one. It is, pious as it may sound, a moral

responsibility. Ask yourself this: do you take the Benetton line that

more or less anything goes? Or do you, like me, believe that, somewhere,

there is a line that should be drawn?

Because I didn’t want to judge the Pepe commercial out of context, I

asked the agency if I could see the rest of the campaign. The print ads

take the form of pseudo notice boards with various contentious items to

the fore, nipple piercing et al. No big deal there, but when it comes to

uncritical references to mind-altering drugs, which in one case it

clearly does, I have a concern. Not that I think that they are

necessarily always a bad thing, but that doesn’t make them an

appropriate subject for advertising to young teenagers. Worse still, in

another ad they reprint an article with the headline: ‘Teenager filmed

his own death.’

I think I understand the strategy: to have a go at Levi’s, Pepe wants to

be nearer the edge. So it tries to say to its market, we understand

what it’s like to be you. But in uncritically showing these extreme

aspects of teenage life, aren’t they implicitly endorsing them, and

isn’t that irresponsible?

Anyway, all this has given me an idea for a new Pepe press ad. They’ve

covered teenage alcoholism, drug-taking and suicide, so what about ram-

raiding? And just to prove that they really don’t believe that showing

any kind of dodgy behaviour in advertising leads to people copying it -

which I’m sure is what they’ll say - let’s make it a story about ram-

raiding a warehouse full of Pepe jeans.

Richard Phillips is the director at R.J. Phillips and Co