Monday, August 1, 2011

Holy Talking Vajayjays! Summer's Eve Scandal: Too Much, Not Enough, or Just Right?

Is it possible to go too far with damage control? Summer's Eve hit the news again last week when it pulled the "controversial" Hail to the V campaign promos after the ads were called racially insensitive. While talking-vagina hand puppets will certainly get tongues wagging on their own, it wasn't Summer Eve's creative representation of the “V” that led to a wave of criticism. As if a company still associated with woefully old-fashioned (if not dangerous) douching doesn't have enough PR hurdles to begin with.

For those of you unfamiliar with the "V" campaign, it consists, consisted of three videos with three apparent audiences – and those audiences appeared to be neatly divided by race and their stereotypical interests - the white girls are the gym bunnies; the Latina punctuates her rant with an “ay-yi-yi.” When Huffington Post polled their readers, 56.14% responded that the ads were “offensive!” 43.86% disagreed, choosing “nothing to see here.” Personally, I'm more offended by Fox's assault on my intelligence than these videos.

PR executive of Richards Group Stacie Barnett told Adweek that the ads were pulled because "Stereotyping or being offensive was not our intention in any way, shape, or form. The decision to take the videos down is about acknowledging that there's backlash here. We want to move beyond that and focus on the greater mission."

The response, however, has me wondering if they should have handled the damage control without yanking the campaign offline. Taking them down was not only an acknowledgement of backlash but also guilt of racial stereotyping by poll, and failure by client pressure. The client saw the ads, everyone agreed they were edgy - so why take them down? Only the week before, The Richards Group defended their videos, doing a much better job of explaining their (albeit poor) campaign-planning process. Talk about flip-flopping.

Now I'm not saying the ads weren't questionable, but audiences were split on whether or not they were actually racist – while Summer's Eve vehemently stated that that they weren't. Pulling the ads prolonged coverage of an overall lackluster campaign whereas an explanation or simple mea culpa could have done a better job of righting wrongs than simply removing the campaign.

In fact, a recent study in 2011's Retail Consumer Report shows that companies willing to interact come out ahead – they don't necessarily need to pull products or ads. 61 percent of consumers in the study said they'd be “shocked” if a company responded to criticism online. Upon receiving a response, 33 percent of reviewers would go back and post a positive review, and 34 percent would delete their original negative review. If nothing else, it certainly makes a case for a well-worded apology.

Creative agencies should stand by their work, even if they need to apologize for it later. If not, they risk being relegated to order-takers and compromise-driven lackeys. I’d rather see work that is controversial and has people engaged in discourse rather than homogenized “creative” that appeases the masses and skirts around “private parts.”

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