It's not easy to push consumer products these days as discretionary spend dries up and advertising channels become ever fragmented. Understandable then when corporations are seduced into more edgier terrain by their creative agencies. And yet where trust and sustainability is at a premium, its hard to figure how BBDO convinced Pepsico to cross the line of stakeholder acceptability with a series of ads riffing on the theme of suicide. The ad campaign was created by BBDO for the German market to promote the 'one calorie' virtue of PepsiMax. The big idea here is that 'one is the loneliest number' and so a solitary PepsiMax calorie depiction is driven to various methods of suicide including shooting, hanging, poisoning, kamikaze pilotage, wrist slashing, overdose, immolation, acid burning and attaching an explosive device to the head.
Someone who fails to take the BBDO message on board & see the funny side is Christine Lu who challenged the agency & Pepsico on Twitter. In a poignant twitter post Christine related how her own family had been tragically impacted by suicide. Christine has been running a campaign of her own on twitter for the past twenty four hours and the old adage - that a well handled crisis can not only preserve a reputation but enhance it - is certainly true in the case of Pepsico. So hats off to Pepsico - Huw Gilbert, Senior Manager for Communications at Pepsico who posted this on twitter:
@christinelu Huw from Pepsi here. We agree this creative is totally inappropriate; we apologize and please know it won't run again. #pepsi
Pepsico's Head of Social Media also weighed in with a personal apology:
@christinelu @huwgilbert posted our response. My best friend committed suicide - this is a topic very close to my heart. My deepest apologies.
Christine was tempered on twitter somewhat by Pepsico's responsiveness which jarred with the apparent lack of communication as yet from BBDO:
Thank you to @boughb and @huwgilbert for having the guts to get on Twitter on behalf of Pepsi and give us an update on the suicide ad
No thanks to @bbdo who has zero comment on why they thought suicide by slashing wrists, hanging and bullet through head was good for #pepsi
In a separate posting Huw Gilbert makes clear the suicide illustrations were used only one time in one publication before being pulled. Pepsico and BBDO have recently parted company.
This is one that would appear to have slipped through the net at Pepsico. The advertisment tone and substance runs contrary to their efforts to integrate sustainability as core under the theme of 'Performance with Purpose'. Pepsico is a constituent of the Dow Jones Sustainability Index and their sustainability report has this to say about their advertising practices:
We avoid advertising in excessively violent programs, programs that may be distasteful as judged by contemporary society and those that may be offensive to large groups of people. ...... We seek to avoid programs featuring exceptionally controversial or potentially inflammatory discussions.
This isn't the first time BBDO has courted controversy. Recently AdGabber posted a BBDO video created to promote the Li Yue Long Men Young Creatives competition with the rather odd assurance that all BBDO Shanghai office women staff were sized to at least D Cup proportions: You can watch the video here which includes the following caption:
People say at BBDO Shanghai all the women staff are D cups. Attend the Li Yue Long Men Young Creatives Competition and you can get into a 4A Agency and see for yourself.
BBDO sister firm TBWA (also part of the BBDO parent company Omnicom group) has done some great pro bono work to promote sustainability especially with their award winning campaign in support of Amnesty International. But according to the Wall Street Journal here also TBWA has fallen foul of web communities when Chinese bloggers became aware of the Amnesty campaign critical of the Chinese government record on human rights with the tag line:
After the Olympic Games, the fight for the Human Rights must go on.
Unfortunately, TBWA also created the Adidas Olympic campaign which tapped into Chinese national pride, quite a different message to the Amnesty campaign. Chinese bloggers were incensed and called for a boycott of TBWA ads and urged Chinese staff to quit the agency on patriotic grounds.
But even before the Oympics, Amnesty judged the TBWA creative as over the top and cancelled the programme. However, they did allow TBWA permission to enter the work into industry competitions where the edgy creatives won prestigious industry awards for the agency. Sadly, in wake of the China problems TBWA now judges that it's pro bono work is beyond the pale and not something they should stand behind when the going gets tough. Quoted in the Wall Street Journal TBWA CEO Tom Carroll said:
Had TBWA management known about this ad, not only would the ad not have been entered into an award show, but it would not have been produced. .....This is the action of one individual at our agency working on a pro bono account.....
Caroll assures TBWA will
ensure this never happens again.
I guess thats alright then.