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In the Eye of the Beholder

Offensive, shocking, inappropriate. And that's in 30 seconds or less.

A few months ago I had written a blog post,  "Breakthrough Advertising to Break Down The Stereotypes" that spoke about the best advertising had to offer in presenting women, families, people with disabilities, etc. in a realistic, meaningful way.

Since then, another 15 weeks of advertising and marketing communications study have gone by (Fall 2011 semester) and the last two sessions were dedicated first, to measuring the effectiveness of ad and promotions (both pre- and post-tests) and then, once again, to the ethical, social responsibility of these messages.

Now, I finally understand this sequence of this study like never before. If marketers take the time and money to test their messages before they run the commercials, they could improve the communication and catch problems, controversy before it starts. But then again, for some advertisers, the whole point is to get noticed -- break through the clutter and shock for shock's sake.

The day I presented these ideas to my students I was amazed by the number of controversial, offensive and inappropriate ads I could remember and find via the web (typically by YouTube fans) in less than 15 minutes.

Using my recollection of current events and the press surrounding these spots, it was an off-the-cuff search that was based upon the uproar of popular opinion –not MY opinion.

You probably will recognize most of them -- especially if you are an avid watcher of the Super Bowl or read the news leading up to the event. I am not labeling them unique in any way – they simply made a stir when they hit the airwaves.

Ironically, most of the Super Bowl spots are couched in secrecy until the event so they never get a chance to be reviewed by consumers beforehand. So as for the techniques of testing ads before you spend a lot of money on television, it's pretty irrelevant here. For good or evil, these commercials are tested in post-football game fashion and that's the way many marketers like it. Sometimes the more outrageous the better. But are they memorable? Apparently for me, they were.

Some of the ads I screened:

Snickers 2007 ad of two guys and a single candy bar in their auto repair shop – ran once and then was stripped of all further showings including the company’s website. It angered the gay community and anyone who found it intolerable when it came to the stereotypical idea of “doing something manly.”

Focus on the Family’s ad with Tim Tebow and his Mom – an anti-abortion ad from 2010 that focused on Pam Tebow’s decision not to abort her fetus, though according to published reports she was taking medicines for amoebic dysentery that threatened its health. The spot never said any of the above directly, just suggested that they went through a lot and stayed tough.

And the commercial that never made it to air: Doritos/Pepsi from 2011 where these two items are used for Holy Communion to encourage more attendance in church.

Like art, we all have a perspective on what is appropriate and what is not for commercial viewing. Some marketers respond quickly when the crisis arises, others ride the wave of publicity, even negative publicity. We can react and protest. But let’s face it. The most effective response is the classic one, as many will do by boycotting products that represent these brands.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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