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Ads gone wild: PR stunt or genuine mistake?

A recent string of ad gaffes by brands such as London Weight Management, Nivea and A&F has left many asking: what in the world were they thinking? Were these genuine misjudgments on the part of their creators, or just a PR stunt?

Among the allegations are claims of sexism, even racism and vulgarity. In the wake of these allegations, we asked industry pundits how they view these controversies as.

According to Daniel George Wan, creative director and managing partner, the Catalyst Agency, we’ll never know if an ad is a PR stunt. “And if it were, the pay-off would usually be less controversial.”

Given the ‘approval process’ already in place in an agency for instance strategic planning, research, senior creatives and finally the clients who was involve and to approve, Wan feels there is very little room for any mistake.

Kelvin Tan, general manager of Gosh! Advertising doubts whether the campaigns by London Weight Management or Burger King were PR stunts or just bad judgment on both the client and the agency side.

“While an agency staffer will often cajole you into allowing them some space for a break-through in creative, marketers also need to understand that the damage done to a brand can be expensive, even if temporary. Consumer testing help puts some sensibility into equation,” Tan said.

Christina Cheang, regional MD, Southeast Asia, GolinHarris thinks these were likely PR stunts. “They succeeded in capturing public attention which was their primary objective.”

However, in Linda Fulford’s, managing director, Fulford Public Relations view it is important to get an understanding of the advertiser’s motivation before making any assessment on a form of creative work.

She feels Nivea’s ‘Re-Civilize Yourself’ campaign was very likely a case of genuine coincidence and oversight on the part of the brand and not a deliberate racist act.

“An internationally renowned brand such as Nivea, with a huge following in non-Caucasian markets would prefer to avoid putting itself into untenable positions where their credibility comes into question,” she says.

In the case of London Weight Management’s ad, she said the creative execution could have been better managed, as it did border on being insulting to the everyday woman – the very people they’re reaching out to.

Whether was it a PR stunt or a genuine mistake?

“Neither. The core message was pretty deliberate – that losing weight can drastically enhance your life – but I doubt that the creatives were intentionally gunning for PR mileage when they conceptualised the ad,” Fulford said.

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