Effective advertising and public relations efforts communicate the company's points in a way that resonates with the tastes and sensibilities of the target group. That's some 101 stuff right there. But try telling that to the howling monkey creatures who actually make ads and advise PR moves for a living. They'll take what should have been a basic or even well-meaning message and twist it until the whole thing is confusing, hurtful, or downright disturbing. And then they will poop on it. For that is what monkeys do.
In 2006, the Tokyo Metro Government released a series of illustrated earthquake-safety pamphlets for English-speaking visitors, since foreigners may not be as chill about earthquakes as the Japanese have learned to be. Admirably, the pamphlets depicted non-Asian races in an effort to be inclusive. Unfortunately, the black people depicted in the pamphlets looked like this:
Tokyo Metro Government
"Come on, this is like the third worst thing involving people on our trains."
The Japanese can probably be partially forgiven for this considering that, as a largely homogenous society, they don't exactly have a vibrant black community to run the cartoons past, just in case they turned out to be, you know, incredibly racist. But still, the extent of their research into what black people look like seems to have been white power pamphlets, Al Jolson performances, and Amos 'n' Andy. Aaand here we see the goofy black caricatures being chastised by more enlightened white people:
Tokyo Metro Government
Enlightened white people get their info from reliable radio DJs.
Obviously, the publishers of the pamphlets were subject to some complaints. And to their credit, they did correct themselves -- by redrawing the cartoons to feature only whites and Asians. We guess that technically fixes the problem.
If ads have taught us anything about athletics, it's that all you need to do is pop open a bowl of Official Sponsor cereal and slide on your Official Sponsor shoes to transform into an Olympic-level competitor. It's a tried and true method: "Best Sports Guy uses our product, and he is the Best Sports Guy! Use our product, too!" But tried and true methods are boring. You know what would really sell shoes? Mocking the disabled. Like Nike did here:
"What do losers and the paralyzed have in common? Neither needs Nikes!"
The words may be a little hard to read when compressed to Internet size, so let's break this thing down:
How can a trail running shoe with an outer sole designed like a goat's hoof help me avoid compressing my spinal cord into a Slinky on the side of some unsuspecting conifer, thereby rendering me a drooling, misshapen non-extreme-trail-running husk of my former self, forced to roam the earth in a motorized wheelchair with my name embossed on one of those cute little license plates you get at carnivals or state fairs, fastened to the back?
Pictured: Immobile, hopeless vegetables.
Yep, Nike decided to fuck paraplegics and the chairs they rode in on and published this ad in 11 outdoor magazines. Turns out most sane human beings realize that belittling the physically disabled is sort of a mean-spirited way to go about selling a running shoe, so the company went into apology frenzy mode, and their spokesman rushed in to point out that the company has "a long and diverse record of supporting disabled athletes." You may recognize that as the corporate sports equivalent of "We totally have black friends, so we can say that word."
In 2011, Groupon entered the Super Bowl advertisement game for the very first time. The company obviously wanted their consumer-sports deflowering to be memorable, so they decided to push their Save the Money campaign, wherein they matched people's donations to various charities. They hired actor Timothy Hutton as spokesman and decided to focus the ad on a cause that people could rally around: human rights in Tibet. They had one of the biggest ad spots in the world. They had a noble cause to rally behind. They had a guy who sort of looks like Tim Robbins -- they had a vision, goddamnit.
"Our spokesman dated Angelina Jolie. If that's not charity cred, I don't know what is!"
And here's how it played out: The clip opens with a concerned Hutton reflecting on the plight of the Tibetan people. "The people of Tibet are in trouble, their very culture in jeopardy," he David Attenboroughs, accompanied by sad orchestration and heart-rending images of innocent children flashing across the screen. Then, before you can hear all about how the price of a cup of coffee can solve every woe in the world, the clip cuts to a busy restaurant. Hutton pulls the rug out from under everyone, quipping that Tibetans, even amid their many woes, "still whip up an amazing fish curry!" Which, incidentally, people can buy at discount rates in Chicago restaurants, thanks to Groupon.com. THE END.
Congratulations, store-brand Tim Robbins! You just starred in an ad that publicly ridicules Tibetans and their puny human rights. Just one more sentence -- something like "while proceeds go to help Tibet" -- and this would have been totally fine. But this wasn't one isolated incident left on the editing room floor. The whole "mocking a tragedy" thing wasn't an accident, but rather an intentional campaign theme: Here's Elizabeth Hurley, discussing the state of Brazilian rain forests and bikini waxing ("Not all deforestation is bad!"):
And here's Cuba Gooding Jr., telling us about endangered whales while peddling a Groupon deal for whale-watching trips:
Unsurprisingly, the campaign immediately faced the wrath of pretty much everyone, but it especially pissed off China, and right as Groupon was gearing up to tap into their insanely huge market. So from either viewpoint -- whether you care about humanitarian outrage or maximizing cold hard profits -- Groupon shot themselves in the foot this time.
Well, technically speaking, it was both feet.
This is the Bictator -- Bic Canada's answer to the question: "What if Kim Jong Il and a caterpillar made a baby and it started executing people?" What does that have to do with pens? An excellent question. Witness:
The Bictator TV ad was part of Bic's back-to-school pen sale campaign, which means it was targeted at kids, or, more likely, at parents about to shop for their children's education. Yes, to get people excited about the future of the children, Bic picked a new spokesman whose wacky catchphrase was ordering prisoners to their deaths.
The ad opens on the Bictator in a dank rat den of an office, rubber-stamping away the lives of prisoners. Finally, he comes across a man he wishes to pardon, but -- in a Kafkaesque dystopian twist -- his pen doesn't work. Too bad, almost-pardoned guy, bet you wish your murderer had a Bic!
Kuznetsov Dmitry/HemeraGetty Images
"Stalin would have just used a pencil."
Bic's attempt at (literal) gallows humor did not go over well: Many people found the ad insensitive to Asians, while others shockingly failed to see the merit of selling goddamn pens with oppression and implied genocide. Within days, Bic was forced to whip out a big old bottle of PR-quality Wite-Out in the form of a hasty (and partially botched) ad retraction and public apology. In accordance with unforgiving Canadian advertising laws, the entire marketing department was then swiftly sentenced to die, all the while cursing the high-quality, never-scratchy Bic pen that the judge used to sign their death sentence.