The British are generally known for having a decent sense a humour. The ability to laugh and see the comedy in a tragic situation is a quality many of us pride ourselves on. As natural pessimists we can all agree life is random, brutish, ugly and painful – and the last thing we want to do is take it seriously. However, like any democratic society we always have a vocal fringe of whiners who want to spoil it for everyone else because their precious feelings have been offended. Offense, we are told nowadays, it a terrible thing. Like any reasonable person, I disagree. Offense is a product of living in a country with a modicum of free speech. If you don’t like it, stuff cotton wool in your ears or pack your bags and head off to a desert island.
Am I immune to offense? No, absolutely not. I am routinely offended by teenagers on the internet making dumbass comments belittling mental illness. “Put all my pencils in a row, LOL, I am so totally OCD.” Are you? Are you fucking really? If I had to take a guess I’d say roughly a third of all creative people are hiding some kind of mental illness at any given time. You want to know where our ideas come from? The same place that makes as crazy. Off the top of my head I know of Managing Partners with anxiety, Art Directors with depression and Social Media Managers with self harm. It’s a big problem within the industry, and one which I don’t hear anyone talking about.
But back to the idea of offense. Sure, I get offended. I do not, however, call for repercussions. Offense is the price you pay for talking to people with different opinions, ideologies and worldviews to your own. Censorship is never the answer. In light of the recent attacks in Paris, holding true to these principles matters now more than ever. How, you ask, is this tangentially related to advertising? We’re not in the business of offending, but of selling, of building brands, of ‘surprise and delight’. The answer concerns that most divisive of condiments – Marmite.
In 2013 Marmite released an ad which was seen by many as offensive. It drew a light-hearted comparison between a Marmite jar and (what I personally read as) a neglected pet. RSPCA-style inspectors were shown visiting individuals reported for abuse and rescuing the helpless jar from the back of the cupboard. Finally, the unloved and ignored Marmite was rehomed with a new family, to be enjoyed and eaten. For me, at least, this was a brilliant advert. It took a beautiful insight (“We all have a neglected marmite jar at the back of the cupboard”) and transformed it into a powerful and emotional ad. The tone was spot on, the execution clever, and in many ways the commercial mirrored the intrinsic nature of the product itself. You either loved it or you hated it.
And people did hate it. 504 of them hated it enough to complain to the Advertising Standards Authority in the UK. After looking into the issue, the ASA had this to say:
"While some viewers might find the theme and style of the ads distasteful most would recognise the ads were a spoof. They were unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence or to be irresponsible and were unlikely to cause undue fear or distress to young viewers. They were light-hearted in tone and did not trivialise issues of abuse or denigrate the work of child and animal protection services.”
Two years later,
Adam&Eve/ DDB W Communications are back with a continuation rerun of the campaign. I think this is particularly admirable, especially in the sense that they managed to persuade their client to have another bite of the apple (so to say) after all these complaints. It is known that most clients are a skittish bunch, concerned with safeguarding the lofty brand values of their product. It’s interesting to me that after 500 complaints, instead of moving on to something entirely different, they’re choosing to built and develop this idea across a fully integrated campaign.
The ad premiers on Monday. Here’s the teaser, which has already been seen by 40,000 people on Facebook via organic reach alone. Joanne O’Riada, Marmite Brand Manager told Adland: “This film is part of a digital-first teaser campaign that will renew the ‘End Marmite Neglect’ campaign for 2015. By creating a world ‘beyond’ the commercial, the teaser and its supporting PR and social media campaign, will increase the noise around and shareability of the TV campaign while delivering a light-hearted reminder of the ‘Love it. Hate it. Just don't forget it’ strapline.”
Are they ready for “full-scale Marmageddon”? Are you?
EDIT (11/01/15) - W Communications has been in contact to tell us "the advert that will be on screens from Monday will be the same as seen in 2013."
Concept, script & storyboarding: W Communications
Direction & editing: PUSH (Adi Kerr & Jimmy Knott)
Producer: Matt Klemera
Production company: Gas & Electric
Voiceover: Stephen Lyons