Like many of you, I watched the Super Bowl. Unlike many, I didn’t see the commercials that caused so much buzz.
So it was a surprise when I saw the ire generated by an FCA Ram Trucks ad featuring a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speech.
Many cried foul, and quite a few clearly not having even seen the ad, which features an inspiring 1968 speech from the civil rights leader about the value of service, NOT the “I have a dream” speech.
Firstly, it is my considered view that any who are unhappy with the use of the speech in a pickup truck ad should direct their displeasure at the MLK estate that signed onto its use.
However the backlash does raise some issues about how marketing can both win and lose by generating controversy.
I do not believe for a second that the creators of the ad did not expect there to be some negative feedback, but took a calculated and, probably, well researched, risk.
And I challenge readers to remember any of the five FCA ads with the same clarity.
Closer to home, aftermarket promotions and advertising tend to be much less controversial, but can still generate some blowback.
Decades ago a company featured a group of clearly inebriated hosers in an ad to promote its “loaded” calipers (Get it?) It raised some prudish eyebrows to be sure, but a lot of people loved it. They found it funny. And they remembered it.
And a jobber promotion that offered new customers a special discount to attend a trade show went sideways when existing customers—a lot of existing customers– received the promotion in error.
The store owner’s phone blew up.
But it also got them out to the show. The jobber running that promotion smartly took a different approach the next year, but recognized the value of getting a reaction.
And in the annals of aftermarket history, I recall reading of a jobber promotion that offered customers a shotgun as a premium. It is hard to imagine that getting the green light today.
Backlash in today’s social media landscape can come fast and furious.
Overall though, marketers large and small are faced with the reality that marketing needs to get attention to work, and going viral is a big boost to that.
But problems can arise when the viral goes negative and won’t stop. An ad by Pepsi that was accused of trivializing military crackdown on civil unrest resulted in lots of negative press, the ad being pulled, and an apology being issued by the company.
Such is the fine line that marketers can walk.
Focus groups are a great way to find out in advance whether a marketing plan is on the right track, but can be time consuming and too costly for local marketing.
At the grassroots level, avoiding negative results and building business may be as simple as vetting a planned promotion with family and a few trusted customers.
They may not all respond positively, but at least you’ll know what you’re in for.
As far as that MLK ad goes, it continues to resonate. I don’t mind admitting that when I watched it later, I found it inspirational. It literally brought a tear to my eye such is the power of King’s words.
And that is worth something beyond advertising.
You may never have the opportunity create something that impactful, but if you do, I hope you have the courage to see it through.
Andrew Ross, Publisher and Director of Content