It is no secret that controversy sparks discussion. In the current age where no mistake goes unscrutinised by eagle-eyed tweeters, it seems that public figures and big corporations are under more pressure than ever to toe the party line. How then, with supposed ‘experts’ working in the fields of advertising, marketing, media and publicity, is it the case that more and more often these big corporations are ‘missing the mark’ with their advertising campaigns?
Is it in fact not incompetent execs but credulous social media revolutionaries which are being showcased and exploited?
Recent months have seen insensitive and offensive advertisements sparking online debates about racism. To me it seems that these ‘oversights’ are little more than an attempt to gain increased mention of the brand. After all, no publicity is bad publicity, and this seems to be the drive behind major company executives repeatedly ‘missing the mark’.
Heineken were recently called out for their advertisement with the ill-placed tagline ‘sometimes lighter is better’. Apologies followed and the advert was pulled from the air. This however seems like an all too familiar situation. Initially, I reasoned that the cause of major companies making somewhat blatant errors in the way of racially offending must be due to a lack of diversity among executives. It seems reasonable to expect that if people of colour were in the boardroom there would be a heightened insight into cultural and racial sensitivity.
For instance, the H&M case initially seemed to me to be a complete oversight, not an intentional act of racism but a lack of racial sensitivity among directors. A subliminal message that they would not recognise but something that a much more racially diverse public would inevitably be more sensitive towards.
However, with these occurrences increasing it no longer feels like just an error in judgement and instead seems purposeful. Nothing gets people talking quite like controversy. In the internet age where we find ourselves constantly bombarded by advertisements, it is increasingly difficult for any one brand to stand out. Thus, big businesses who can afford to take a risk are exploiting the eagerness of tweeters to condemn any instance of racial offence. Sparking controversy assures that you stay relevant. This is a tactic that has been seen in the entertainment industry for years — only now advertising execs are seeing its appeal.
Consequently, in a bid to stand up for minorities through twitter tirades, the public are only playing into the hands of the corporations.
This self-assurance that even after being branded as racist a company will face no real backlash, seems a worrying result of consumerism. As a public we are quick to run to our keyboards to attack a corporation but where is the substance? Have any of the brands labelled as racist faced a decline in business; or do we now think it’s enough to only launch an online defence of minorities?
The rise in social media and click bait journalism only appears to be helping corporations in projecting their brand name beyond the capacity of a single advertisement. An advert now only has to be aired once, and provided it creates enough controversy its viewership will exceed that worthy of the company’s advertising expenditure.
Perhaps at the crux of this issue lies a wider problem — the rich and powerful are not subject to the same rules as the rest of us. In a world where the president of the United States can be defamatory to women and make outrightly racist comments, is it any wonder that a blind eye is turned to major corporations missing the mark with their advertisements? Realistically, these companies are untouchable so they can afford to offend a group of people to increase their own publicity.
Of course, I could be thinking too much into this and perhaps we really are just faced with severe incompetence in the boardrooms of big businesses. However, if racism is being used as a tool for advertisement, this for me is a sad realisation of the power of big businesses and their exemption from the moral laws that govern the rest of us.