ANGRY ADS SEEK TO CHANNEL CONSUMER OUTRAGE
ANGRY ADS SEEK TO CHANNEL CONSUMER OUTRAGE
2009-05-29 at 12:25:53 pm #21948
Angry Ads Seek to Channel Consumer Outrage
The mad men of Madison Avenue are really mad these days, creating a spate of angry advertising campaigns that seek to channel the outrage, frustration and fear felt by consumers hit hard by what some are calling the Great Recession.The campaigns take an outspoken, provocative tone that is unusual for mainstream marketing messages, which typically try to avoid aggrieved attitudes for fear of alienating audiences. The change reflects the significant shift in sentiment as the public reacts to the wrenching and, at times, frightening financial events of the last year.“We’re turning up the volume in relation to what our customers are feeling,” said Jeffrey W. Hayzlett, chief marketing officer at the Eastman Kodak Company, which is running ads for a new line of printers and inkjet cartridges that rant about a “$5 billion stain” on the economy caused by “overpaying” for other brands of inkjet printer ink.“It’s a departure for us,” Mr. Hayzlett acknowledged, given the “touchy-feely” image the Kodak brand has long had, but “it’s right for today’s times.”
Other brands trying to echo consumer anger include Post Shredded Wheat cereal, which declares in new ads that “Progress is overrated” and “Innovation is not your friend.” JetBlue Airways revels in the discomfort of chief executives forced off corporate jets by greeting them with a sardonic “Welcome aboard.”Miller High Life is being sold by a blue-collar character who delights in removing the beer from hoity-toity bars, restaurants and stores that he believes are shortchanging shoppers. And Harley-Davidson deplores “the stink of greed and billion-dollar bankruptcies” in a campaign that carries a rallying cry defiant enough to be unprintable in a family newspaper. “It felt like something that needed to be said,” said Jim Nelson, chief creative officer at Carmichael Lynch in Minneapolis, the Interpublic Group agency that creates ads for Harley-Davidson.The idea is to respond to “this climate of fear and worry and ‘What’s going to happen?’ ” Mr. Nelson said, with a campaign that will “strike an emotional chord.”“That unconventional, rebellious tone, that ‘I’m going to live my life no matter what,’ is something a lot of people could relate to,” he added.
Indeed, Harley-Davidson has increased its market share since the campaign began in May 2008, Mr. Nelson said, and there have been “thousands and thousands of comments” praising the ads.Kodak, Mr. Hayzlett said, is also pleased with the results of its angry ads, which are being created by Deutsch in New York, another Interpublic Group agency. Sales are “exceeding expectations” for printers and ink cartridges, he said.The campaigns represent the intensification of a trend that began last spring, when the economy started to show signs of stress. Harley-Davidson was among the first marketers to try telling consumers it, too, was angry about how things were going.“You need to walk in the shoes of the average consumers today,” said Marc Brownstein, president and chief executive at the Brownstein Group advertising agency in Philadelphia. “They’re a little beat up and their wallets are lighter, and the people they trusted stole from them.”Marketers “have got to rebuild that trust,” said Mr. Brownstein, who blogs about the agency business for the trade publication Advertising Age, by being “brutally honest” in their ads.
“Candor is in,” he advised.
Post Shredded Wheat, sold by the Post Foods division of Ralcorp Holdings, tries being candid in a campaign centered on a make-believe boss named Frank Druffel who wonders, “Has progress taken us to a better place?” and concludes, “I’d say it’s taken us for a ride. (Probably in a carbon-coughing oil guzzler.)” The point is to present the brand, unchanged since 1892, as the cereal that “put the ‘no’ in innovation.”
The tone reflects a belief now widespread among “fed-up” consumers that “as the world gets more complicated, the more trouble we get ourselves in,” said Tim Piper, creative director at Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide in New York, the WPP agency that creates campaigns for Post cereals.The boss character is supposed to be “a speaker for the truth,” Mr. Piper said, “who could say what no one else is saying.”That tack is also being taken by JetBlue Airways in its “Welcome bigwigs” campaign, created by JWT in New York. “Looks like the days of padded paychecks, fancy drapes and private jets are over,” one ad declares. “But hey, there is a bright side” — flying on JetBlue, with amenities like “comfy leather seats” that can assuage the sting of losing private plane privileges.The JetBlue ads “poked at the guys bringing down the economy,” said Wayne Best, executive creative director at JWT, also owned by WPP, but were not intended to cross into fury or mean-spiritedness.In the words of Fiona Morrisson, director for advertising and brand at JetBlue, “We weren’t looking for Versailles.”“Offering a hand to the beleaguered C.E.O.’s, telling them it’s not so bad in the real world, brought the idea to life in a tongue-in-cheek way people could relate to,” she said.
In other words, there may be a limit to how incensed a large corporation can get in an ad.“People are disaffected and disillusioned,” said Marc E. Babej, president of Reason Inc. in New York, a brand and corporate strategy consulting company, and siding with them can help advertisers “grab a bit of attention.”“But I would be careful as a marketer about playing with the notions of ‘We understand you’ or ‘We’re on your side,’ ” Mr. Babej said, “because there’s some risk of it harming you if it’s not really relevant to your product.”Or as Mr. Brownstein of the Brownstein Group put it, “You can’t anger people into buying your brand.”
In which category might anger be appropriate? Perhaps for one of the ground zeroes of the economy, financial services. A campaign for the Bessemer Trust Company, which helps the wealthy manage their money, carries this frank headline: “Why should you believe anything we say?”“Rarely in history have so many been so violated by so few,” the text begins. “We understand. We’re as angry as you are, because the actions of those few have cast a pall of doubt and suspicion over everyone even remotely related to the financial industry.”
The ad addresses consumers as if “they are basically frozen in place,” said Orson Munn, chief executive at Munn Rabôt in New York, the Bessemer Trust agency. “You have to speak with them in a way that shocks them out of being frozen.”“It’s a very fine line, because if we go too far it’ll push the brand over the edge,” he said. “But you have to feel a little uncomfortable with advertising for it to work.”