David Waller in his preliminary study on ‘What factors make controversial advertising offensive?’ presented at the Australian and New Zealand Communications Association Conference in 2004 stated that controversial advertisings that is racist, sexist, or have violent images, particularly when targeting the female market can impact negatively on a brand. But what happens when these are fake advertisements? There is a trend for people to create fake, high quality advertisements and release them via social media with the aim of them going viral – there are even awards for fake ads. In some instances these fake advertisements can be highly controversial in their message and can result in the public relations nightmare for the actual company. Yes although fake, these can still affect the image of a company/brand and result in decrease in sales and boycotting of the product, and the end result comes down to how the company handle the fake campaign.
Some ads are widely believed to be real, unless the consumer does a search on them so companies have to deal with a potential public outcry and ensure it is as widely known that the ad is fake. Take for example the following ads:
There was a fake ad for Volkswagen Polo in 2004-2005, where a suicide bomber got into his Polo, drove to a busy cafe district and then released the bomb. When detonated it only caused the inside of the car to explode with the slogan, “Small but tough”. It was an extremely high quality advertisement, using the humour appeal and certainly the message was very clear. But the image of the suicide bomber from an identifiable culture was the controversial issue and did cause an outcry. Volkswagen distanced themselves from the advertisement and sought legal action, stating it was libelous and infringed their trademark. It is claimed that the creators who were seeking employment in Volkswagen UK ad agency, DDB London, did not mean to release it and they have stated that they do not know how it was released. An undisclosed settlement was met, with Volkswagen not seeking damages from the creators of the pair.
Aston Martin in 2012, where a scantily clad girl, was washing her sheer shirt in the kitchen sink, with the slogan “You know you are not the first but do you really care”. There is nothing to say really about the ethical nature of this sexist ad, Aston Martin did quickly claim no knowledge of it and the image was a playboy image so was able to separate themselves from that image.
One concern of this ad is that BMW did release an ad with the same slogan to Ads of the World through DDB Greece although there have been authenticity issues in regards to this ad as well. But still a car ad, using no image of a car with that slogan is just plain sexist and doesn’t improve the public opinion of used car salesmen and their lack of ethics.
It is unknown whether people are doing this for fun, whether the companies are releasing them unofficially so they can cut through the clutter and noise, or whether competitors are releasing them. That’s a whole other issue but whatever the reason, companies cannot ignore them and they have to separate themselves from these fake controversial advertisements so the negative opinion doesn’t stay front of mind in consumers’ minds. Companies unfortunately cannot ignore these ads, especially when they are of high quality and some community members believe they are real, companies need to ensure they distance themselves from the ad to assist in building of a positive public image.