Hard Rock Café had to pull out an advertising campaign in Sabah after it drew criticisms online from netizens and the Malaysian authorities. The ad that was intended to promote the brand’s recently opened branch in Sabah’s capital, Kota Kinabalu.
The promotional campaign featured a digitally edited picture of an orangutan rocking out on a guitar with its mouth wide open. The ad drew the attention of the Sabah government and various wildlife groups, both of which deemed the ad offensive, since it was promoted in a state that is known to be a wildlife refuge for orangutans.
According to the Associated Press, Hard Rock Cafe Kota Kinabalu was also quoted on the article saying that it “sincerely apologises” to those who have been offended by the campaign. The restaurant company said that it was working with local authorities to ensure all future advertisements would be “culturally sensitive.”
Also quoted on the article was Sabah Wildlife Department director William Baya called the ad a “distasteful exploitation” and said that the ad might give a wrong impression on how Sabah treats the endangered animal.
Graham Drew, ECD of Grey Malaysia told Advertising + Marketing that Hard Rock is a brand with attitude and rock and roll is literally in its DNA. Hence the public can and should expect the brand to be fun, irreverent and provocative – it is why so many people love them in the first place.
On the face of it, this work displays all of those attributes.
“As a creative, one should always provoke a reaction. But, as with all ideas, there is always that time when you have to step back and think about how people ‘could’ react to your work,” said Drew. He explained that there are two factors especially at play here – animals and national identity. Both of which are potentially sensitive issues and should not be played with lightly.
“The fact that the Orangutan is endangered just amplifies the issue still further. The combination of which makes it absolutely makes it provocative, but not in a good way for everyone. I’m sure that nobody intended to offend and many would still argue that people should just take the work in the nature in which it is intended – as fun. But, it is like telling a joke at the dinner table – know your audience, because unfortunately, not everyone can always see the funny side,” said Drew.
Meanwhile Adrian S’ng, managing director, Saatchi & Saatchi Malaysia, said that the ad did nothing to stir any emotions in him.
“To be honest, I don’t see why is everybody going bananas over this – pun intended. It is like how Cadbury used a drumming Gorilla or Panasonic used a Gorilla for the Evolta batteries. It is Sabah and Sabah is famous for its Orang utans,” said S’ng.
(Photo courtesy: Bangkok Post)