While Ogilvy in India have already apologized for the Kurl-On poster featuring Taliban assassination attempt survivor Malala "bouncing back" to sell mattresses, we can expect more like this as we're officially in the international ad award-season now. Scam ads winning awards in Cannes is a tradition. Bonus points if they have Hitler in them and the Indian agency doesn't have the client, or if there's a hint of pedophilia, or if the creators of the ad have a track record of shocking scam ad wins like the 9/11 WWF ad. You get the picture. Campaigns for Ford with Silvio Berlusconi and his bound and gagged girlfriends in the trunk are uploaded to advertising archives, as if they ran, and soon award shows are awarding the "real" ads. How anyone can think such unacceptable images can be used as a selling tool is quite surprising, meanwhile real ads have every rough edge polished down so hard the main ideas eventually goes missing as the 30 second of sell strives to become the 30 second of politically correct.
But what's the story from the other side? Matthew Charlton is the CEO of Brothers and Sisters and founder of BETC in London shares a story at the Drum: Scam ads and the slippery slope to being a total idiot.
I had personal experience of this running PlayStation years ago. Some gold hungry morons from our group in a far-flung place decided to create a suite of ads comping in images of fairgrounds into real shots of the gas chambers in Auschwitz – and then hijack poor PlayStation and put its name on it. They ran in a single coffee shop, once, and then they entered them into an awards show. Unsurprisingly, the chairman of the jury from Israel took massive exception to them. The implication of these ads were a potential global horror show for all if us – agency and client.
In the end we managed to sort it all out after about four weeks of absolute hell, with client and a journalist who wanted to expose it all as a real campaign, which it never ever was. And PlayStation was incredibly supportive of us, as was Tim Lindsay, my then boss, who fought like hell with me to get justice in the company to the people who did it.
But people get put at risk... jobs, losing accounts. I was under so much stress thinking that it would blow up into an international incident that I thought, on a few occasions, I was having a heart attack. Myself and lots of really decent people were dragged through hell by the total lack of sense and humanity shown by a few gold hungry idiots who placed the chance to win a little trinket over six million people being murdered. I still shiver at the thought.
Gold hungry idiots, aye? In a business where you are only as good as last work, every award is important. In certain agencies in "far-flung places" you can only climb the title ladder in your career, with the help of international awards. This is why so many ran-once-only sleek posters appear in Cannes, but even local French clients get in on that action. There's certain celebrities used as universal symbols in ads that really should be left alone, but they are used because "everyone knows" them, and they have a built in controversy or shock value. Bin Ladin and Hitler are done. There's also events like 9/11 and the holocaust too. It seems these topics are advertisings "but rape jokes can be funny", argued by newbies who really should get a little more experience with real clients more than anything else. I'm not saying these events or people can never be used, I'm saying 99.9% of the time they shouldn't be.
So scam is a very slippery slope. It's not about internal processes; it's about trying to remember that winning at any cost and losing touch with any sense of values each if you have as humans turns you into a monster.