This week we caught our attention as South Africans turned to yet another epic failure for the local advertising industry after the social media public ratted out German luxury car brand BMW for running what appeared to be an offensive ad.
The ad features a plush black female model standing next to one of the brand’s latest models, with the phrase “I am my ancestors’ wildest dreams,” with the word ancestor deleted.
The advert comes off completely deaf as social media users accuse the brand of racism and trivialize the beliefs of the black community.
Meanwhile, in another incident, luxury fashion brand Balenciaga — linked to the likes of Nicole Kidman and Kim Kardashian — released images of its Spring 2023 collection that showed a number of toddlers holding teddy bears in BDSM bondage gear and surrounded by several of Items that the brand has for sale also includes some bondage items.
The brand has been criticized for allegedly promoting child pornography, among other things.
A third example of a failed ad campaign was two years ago when Click advertised hair products with a black model to represent “damaged hair” and a white model to represent “fine hair”.
Who publishes these ads anyway?
The question that so many people are asking is how come these ads go through the eyes of multiple agents before being released, and none of these learned individuals are able to discern the insult they filter through will.
Brand consultancy and market research firm Provoke Insights explained that these ads generally go through a rigorous evaluation process that includes ad testing, copy testing, video testing, and message testing by specially assigned individuals on a marketing team who have a good understanding of the audience the ad is aimed at being. There is also a method to optimize how the advertisements are received.
“The easiest way to ensure an ad is well received is to create a survey that shows the ad to the respondent and asks their opinion.
“This provides direct feedback that will help you improve your advertising and will uncover potential consumer red flags,” the company advised. Preferably, they should not be directly related to the company or brand.
So why are these brands still wrong?
According to Akerink.com — a US-based PR firm — brands unintentionally offending the masses are more common than you might think, as it lists examples of promotional faux pas with names like Pepsi below.
The company believes the reason so many of these brands get it wrong is because they don’t ask themselves the right questions when screening ads.
The company offers three very valuable questions that advertising agencies could ask themselves about a campaign to gauge whether it’s bordering on offensive or not.
These are: Is the campaign based on sweeping generalizations or stereotypes? Have you asked relevant groups for feedback? Is my company entitled to comment on this specific topic?
South Africans didn’t think BMW was qualified to comment on this particular issue – namely South Africa’s painful past that still impacts generations years and years later.
Local celebrity Anele Mdoda even criticized the brand for its oversight:
And while brands like Balenciaga still have to clean up the mess after the offensive images, others like Clicks have managed to publicly apologize and live the whole mess.
But can brands really recover from these mistakes?
You can. Rowan Sewchurran – Brand Reputation Manager at Writers Bureau – explained: “A common legal remedy in similar reputational crises is an apology which would admit an oversight, beyond which little explanation is offered.
“The brand will usually commit to the opposite.
“We have seen in the past that a company’s or an individual’s reputation is a china doll, but depending on how well that reputation has been maintained, trust in the product is often restored fairly quickly.
“To cite the Clicks debacle, we saw the damaging effects of an ignorant campaign and it sticks in the minds of many.
“South Africa is a diverse country and every campaign needs to be sensitive. It’s worrying how easily these things get out in the open, and it raises questions about a company’s review processes.
“Beyond a public statement, some companies can launch a campaign to restore confidence in their product via a roadshow.”