Sunday, May 18, 2008

Bottoms Get a Spanking with Hanes Ads

I've been out of advertising for a while now but I am sure things do not change that much.  So out of residual legacy interest, I found this article by IndieQuill extremely intriguing.

During art school, you cling to the belief that art is more important than selling out.  Then you become a marketing machine and realise that the art of selling really does not have much to do with art at all.

I remember being particularly sorry for a friend who had to undertake the TVCs of a chain of very successful convenience stores.  When we met up I gently chided her on producing such low-brow and tasteless ads.  Yes, I was an opinionated, rude bugger then.  And some say now too.

However, another friend who had gone over to the dark side, i.e. became a suit, told me that they might be low-brow and tacky but they worked for the target audience.  The chain attracted a majority of low- to mid-income workers with limited education and exposure.  The mentality was herd and the taste was LC.  I had to ask what LC meant.  Apparently, it means low-class.

That was an extremely good lesson for someone who had just graduated with rose tinted glasses from the safety of art brainwashing.  

As I, myself, later became a drone of the Dark Side, I began to comprehend more about the craft and nuances of direct and indirect marketing, and my favourite then, guerilla marketing.  I just liked saying it and then making woo woo woo noises and jumping around like King Kong.  

Seeing the reaction to the Hanes ads made me realise that a lot of people are missing the plot.  Or just undeveloped in their thinking and comprehension as I once was.  And still am ... but I am trying.

Let's look at the facts.

The three Hanes ads appeared in India and apparently, nowhere else.

A guess would be that it was created in India, which was later proven right.  It would also mean that McCann Erikson would never have dared to release the ads in the US.  Which could mean that they knew about the ad and were not, as they claim, ignorant of this.  The fact that it was published first in a fairly obscure publication could mean that they wanted to fulfill the requirement of the advertising awards criteria without bring the existence of the three ads to notice.

According to Hello Negro

Prasoon Joshi, chairman and national creative director of McCann, issued the following statement to ET, after first expressing shock that the ads were released in the Free Press Journal, “We have withdrawn the ads and also apologised to McCann Worldwide, stating it was a mistake. A young team in its excitement and passion for winning awards went overboard. The intention was never to hurt anyone’s sentiments and it was done in complete innocence.”

The McCann Erikson apology accused two creatives who decided to flout the almighty McCann Erikson policies because they wanted to enter the ads in a contest, and thus placed the ads in late 2007.  All three of them.  At the same time.  In the same publication.

Do you know how agencies work?  Do you know how hard it is for creatives to run anything without the interference of not just media, but production and account servicing?  If creatives can go around doing whatsoever they wish without any of these three on their case, hell, I might have stayed in advertising!

And even the smallest publications would cost you something something to place three print ads.  Especially if they were full page full colour.  How did they get the client's sign-off?  (I am assuming that these were real ads and not just storyboards published as part of a media article.)

It is impossible for them to get a media booking form off without the client sign-off (or for that matter any of the three departments' sign-off).  And no media booking can happen without media knowing about it.  

So, one can surmise that the client and the agency knew of the three ads.  Or is Mr Joshi trying to tell us that such basic systems, that even the most fly-by-night agencies in Timbuktu would implement, would elude one of the larger agencies ?

Come on, McCann Erikson.  Don't treat us like complete morons.  Someone(s) besides the two creatives messed up.  Heads rolled and doom tolled.  At least give us the real story here.  We would understand.  Honesty in this case would have gained you more brownie points than prevarication.  Really.  

The Hanes ads advocate a life without labels or tags as evinced by their tagline, 

Hanes. Because the world gives you enough labels” 

Yes, I am with you.  What?  Where?  Put on your super-magnifying glasses and read again.  There.  Right at the bottom.  In print small enough to be on your divorce settlement papers.  

Look, the basic thing in branding is that you make your tagline clear.  It should not be overshadowed by other concepts to confuse your primary message.  

In this case, the eyes and brains will get stuck on either the blazing fonts of Faggot, Paki or Nigger.  The less rational will fly into a rage and will be unable to read to the bottom.  The lesser beings will jump for joy that someone agrees with their bigoted view of the world because they too cannot read beyond the first line.

Hey, Hanes brings halfwits and bigots together.  Now that is a good marketing message, no?

An ad fails when you cannot get the punchline immediately ... worse, when you cannot even see it.  If McCann Erikson and Hanes wanted to make their "we are the world," warm and fuzzy sentiments clear, they should not allocate these to the second and bottom from last priority over the need to titillate and shock.

It is just bad advertising.

The art is pretty but flawed.

Again, they are pretty, albeit a little art uni storyboardish, and the techniques are sound but the concept is flawed.  Let's just take the Faggot ad.  Obviously, and I do not mean to be snooty, the creative is a bit of a homo-dube.  If he or she is gay, that is even more a crime.  

By depicting the gay community as a largely drag-queenish community, they do injustice and cast insult with their so-called well-intentions.

Perhaps that was what the intentions were.  To illustrate the generalisations about the gay community.  But again, with their ambiguity of conceptual definitions and mixed messages, they invoke more doubts and confusion than clear lines.  

Again, it is bad advertising to leave people pondering more about intent than going out to buy Hanes knickers.

My guess is that the Hanes accounts team at McCann Erikson India did a song and dance that sold the concept to some inexperienced (and probably fired by now) marketing executive(s) at Hanes Bombay.  They managed to convince him or her that it would be an award-winning ad that would be a real feather in their mutual caps.  It would set the world ablaze with an admonishing blandishing of bottoms and moon the established, boring genre of bottom peddlars featuring bronzed, muscled pecs and abs.  Oh, and the knickers, of course.

Said team got started on the work and both sides did not seek approval from global branding watchdogs, i.e. Hanes Brands in New York and parent company IPG, on either side.  Because those guys would have been down like a ton of bricks on their arses before these 3 ads would have ever seen the light of day.

They tried to be smart and placed it one-off in a fairly obscure publication that only industry people would read.  (Normally, a consumer brand like Hanes would only appear in consumer and mass publications and never in a trade publication.  The media budget will not allow it.)
Which means it could perhaps escape the notice of Hanes headquarters.  Thus, they could enter the 3 contentious ads in the advertising awards and pull them off circulation immediately. 

Ads go out.  Big brouhaha as people everywhere either started reviling them or exhorting them as inspirational, amazing and creative.  

For those who reviled them.  Scroll down.  

For those who are putting the ads on the pedestal.  They're ads ... which did not sell more products.  That means they are inspiring people to overlook the products for the controversy, are  amazingly ineffective and creatively flawed.

OK, so McCann Erikson may have overestimated their shrewdness, overplayed their cards at controversizing, and under-estimated the power of the Internet and gay and racial activism.  Once busted, they claimed these were bogus ads not in line with the branding and corporate identity of Hanes and were never approved.  But it came out of your agency, mates.  Free Press Journal did not just pull them out of their own arses.

Maybe they could have changed the tagline to:

Hanes.  Because McCann Erikson gave you enough excuses.

By placing the three words of Faggot, Nigger and Paki bigger, more vividly highlighted and conspicuous than their beliefs, Hanes and McCann Erikson effectively cracked the brand and reputation of Hanes and the agency in one swoop.

My condolences.

Of course, this is only my educated (OK, ignorant if you choose to disagree) guess and may be far from the truth.  But the fact remains McCann Erikson screwed up.  And they should have had the grace to apologise properly.

What I find even more reprehensible is the Mr Joshi's attempt to excuse his agency.  To disregard the client and global office's brief as easily as his Hanes Y-briefs, is not only criminal but career-suicide.  You can only wonder at his monumental arrogance and insularity as reported by Hello Negro,

Mr Joshi told ET, “Our regular ads are incapable of making it big internationally. Hence, all agencies stoop to one-off advertising. This is the normal practice across the entire Asia-Pacific region.”

I would like to refute that.  Not all agencies resort to one-off advertising.  Especially the bigger players.  It is bad practise, waste of much needed time and resources, and extremely short sighted.  

And "regular ads" have made it big internationally.  Dude, it is the bread and butter that usually make big (with the exception of special projects ad campaigns) because they can command the required media placements to ensure optimum top of mind.  Especially if you are or represent a big, international player.  

And Mr Joshi, it is, thankfully, not normal practice across the entire Asia-Pacific region.   Please do not malign the entire advertising industry in the APAC region as you have annihilated your own agency's reputation.  I really suggest media training.  Really.

There are also rumours that McCann Erikson India has been in trouble before for using the brand of companies it does not represent in advertising awards entries.  And that the reason why it so flagrantly flouted its mandate for Hanes in lieu of its pursuit of vainglory, is because the Hanes account is not a major account for the agency in India and, therefore, they were not afraid to lose it.  

If this is true, I truly feel sorry for IPG.  Having to deal with recalcitrant affiliates or local offices that do not understand the big picture is always hard.  Having to deal with an avenging client and bad press ... well, again, my condolences.