Buzz after a ‘motivational’ ad campaign: It’s often not as ‘accidental’ as it sounds

My first reaction to Balenciaga’s campaign: It’s so sick. Especially that one that has this text hidden in it. Weird detail. This creative director is known for fairly frank campaigns with a lot of irony, but here he goes a step too far. No longer. That’s satire anymore.”

A reference to child abuse

So says Jori Jansen, creative director at advertising agency Roorda. He himself does not at all dislike high-profile campaigns looking for preference, he says, on the contrary: “We should be very happy with advertisers who nowadays still dare to look for edges. And then you can sometimes go ahead with your mouth. This happened. here “.

It is about the controversial campaign of the exclusive Spanish clothing brand Balenciaga. This allowed young children to pose with teddy bears while wearing harnesses and harnesses common in the BDSM (erotic) world. The “hidden statement” is about text that appears on one of the images: it refers to a notorious US court case (Ashcroft Coalition Against Freedom of Speech), which ruled that virtual images (i.e. fake images) of child abuse are legal.

Balenciaga has since apologized for the campaign, after a storm of criticism.

This exact case—a drive on or over the edge, fuss, apologies—appears to happen so often that you can wonder if they’re still “accidents.” Small batch of works: Samsung allowed a woman to run alone in a dark city (as if it was safe), McDonald’s sold Ice Cream Sundae Bloody Sundae, H&M made a black boy wear a sweater with the text “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle”, Gucci took off a “blackface” shirt from the market, and the Jumbo supermarket chain saw a group of construction workers appear in a World Cup campaign (painful, due to the many fatal incidents with construction workers in Qatar).

In all of those cases, an uproar followed, then an apology.

“You can really see a pattern,” says consumer psychologist Patrick Wessels. “Sometimes, they miss the mark entirely by mistake, like Jumbo. This company is focused on the masses. They don’t want that hype at all. But the opposite also happens, of course: Smart people ensure the campaign gets ruined, because it gets noticed.”

Balenciaga thinks hype is good.

This is especially true of a brand like Balenciaga, Wessels says, because it wants to be distinctive, bold, and original. “This also applies to a company like Suitsupply. They’ve done campaigns with naked women, with men who seem to oppress women, and accept men. You know: This is going to generate discussion. This is not an accident, this is the strategy. This is what they want to radiate.”

Such brands, often in the higher segment, want a reputation as a brand that resists the “rules of care”. “Maybe Balenciaga likes the fuss,” Wessels thought. They want to attract a target group who oppose the masses.

Excuses. Been completed. additional.

Advertiser Jansen feels the same way: “I wonder if it’ll hurt them. Most aficionados of this brand absolutely hate this. They’re pretty quick to brush off that kind of morality, I guess.”

He predicts the brand won’t lose any sleep over it either: “They’ll come out with a statement containing apologies, and that’s it. Keep going.”

Jansen refers to the collaboration between the label and controversial musician Kanye West, now called Yé. “This guy is constantly pushing all kinds of boundaries, but yeah, he commands attention, and he’s famous. Fans of the brand will be thinking: A little fanfare is part of it.”

cancel culture

Jansen stresses that such cases, in which the ad actually goes to the “edge,” shouldn’t stop you from continuing to search for that feature. “I’m glad there are still brands out there that still dare to push boundaries. You shouldn’t think we’re just making safe and well-behaved ads.”

He therefore urges colleagues and companies to “not pre-test everything on shreds”. “Society is currently so preoccupied with all the naysayers and critics. The nerve is very open.”

The upshot, says Jansen, is that anything that can cause a buzz, by definition also causes a buzz. “Someone always gets offended. That’s exactly why we don’t want to do everything gracefully. If you do, everything will disappear under the stifling blanket of cancel culture. We have to fuss every now and then. Your mouth. Well, that’s part of it.”

Rules of the Catholic Church

He recalls the historic campaigns for clothing brand Benetton in the 1990s: “They had campaigns that dealt with related issues, like AIDS, homosexuality and the rules of the Catholic Church. Relevant issues. Of course we have to deal with such things consciously but I think it’s important that we keep it going. Keep it going.” Attack the sacred cows.”

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