1. Commercial communication often is ‘pushed to the edge’ to draw attention from the targeted audience. Sometimes, advertisers and their agencies think that ‘fun’ is also a smart way to achieve the same result. But ‘fun perception’ is a tricky issue: what you might feel as hilarious, someone else could consider just as ‘bad taste’ or even as outrageously offensive.
2. A recent Italian TV campaign offers an example of the risks involved by relying on ‘fun’. The local shop of a prestigious international ad agency network was asked to prepare a campaign meant to promote a food company’s breakfast snacks.
3. The agency came up with different versions of a commercial where a young girl was presented in a big garden, in front of a richly set breakfast table, while reeling off – in a highly improbable wording, given the kid’s age – the request that she was looking for “a light, but inviting breakfast, capable of combining her wish for lightness with that for goodness”. Her Mom reacts to such wishful request saying that such a snack did not exist, taking it to “get hit by a meteorite, if proved wrong”. The obvious finale: seconds later a meteorite hits the ground and buries Mom! To prevent complaints about gender stereotypes (Author’s comment and assumption) another version of the commercial presented an identical scenario with the girl’s Dad hit by the meteorite (and the girl finding herself also buried: in short, the entire family is destroyed).
4. Once the commercials were on air, they draw immediate attention from a broad audience. A lot of viewers appreciated the agency’s creativity and irony, but others – heaven forbid! – found the scenario with a Mom hit by a meteorite on her head and dead as a doornail within smoke and fire as completely unacceptable, inappropriate, offensive and harmful to children’s psychological wellbeing. Protests flooded, ‘Social Media Moms’ claimed that kids viewing the commercials resulted terrified and ended up crying. Others accused the agency and the advertiser of callousness, having failed to consider how a little girl having lost one of her parents due to unfortunate circumstances would feel when confronted with the situation shown in the commercials. The Advertiser and its agency argued - to their defense - that the situation presented played on patent irony and was clearly ‘unrealistic’, inviting to think about how many times it happens that a meteorite hits the Earth, killing a human being.
5. Given the media hype of this case, someone else felt necessary to step in with his say. The Catholic Association of TV Viewers condemned the bad taste shown by advertising practitioners through the presentation of “one of the most intimate aspects of family relationships” (i.e. the one between mother and daughter) and announced action before both, the Advertising Self-Regulation Organization as well as the Communication Commissioner. The Broadcasting Company was also asked whether it felt proper airing this commercial at any time during the day.
6. In the end, the Jury of the Italian Advertising Self-Regulation Organization (IAP) had to deal with a complaint filed against the commercial’s broadcasting. The complainant argued that said commercial infringed both, on the principles set by the SRO Code with respect to commercial communication resulting in misleading messages as well as on those governing ads targeted to children or young people (i.e. aged less than twelve years). However, the Jury did not share the concerns underlying the complaint and cleared the commercial as in line with the Code’s principles.
7. Assuming that one of the key goals marketing pursues is that of catching the attention of an audience, one could conclude: mission accomplished. However, when advertisers decide to go down this road, they will be well advised to take into proper account potential boomerang effects and unforeseen backlashes for their brand image.