Blunders or brilliance? Holiday ads drumming up controversy
Karolyn Coorsh, CTVNews.ca
Published Friday, November 13, 2015 10:18AM EST
The Yuletide season has barely begun, but outrage over controversial holiday ads is in full swing.
U.S. department store chain Bloomingdale’s issued an apology this week, after backlash raged online over a catalogue ad that features a man gazing at a woman, with the caption: “Spike your best friend’s eggnog when they’re not looking.”
The ad sparked outrage from consumers who said it promoted date rape. In a company statement, Bloomingdale’s apologized and called the ad “inappropriate and in poor taste.”
But, it’s not even the first time this holiday season that a marketing blunder has prompted murmurs among consumers.
Target has also come under fire for selling a sweater that has “OCD Obsessive Christmas Disorder” written on it. Critics said it trivialized mental illness.
Marketing consultant Tony Chapman blames the blunders on a demanding business climate and thinning marketing industry.
Mistakes slip by in “hollowed out” head offices where few senior executives are left to manage “a lot of inexperienced juniors,” Chapman told CTV’s Canada AM on Friday.
Those same teams, he said, are also under pressure to disseminate a lot of content on social media such as Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter.
“They’ve got to be constantly engaging and communicating with their audience, so they just volley this stuff out.”
Chapman said, with these factors combined, “incredibly stupid mistakes happen.”
In some cases, such as Target’s OCD sweater, Chapman said the retailers are not reading the consumer consciousness correctly.
At first glance, it is not hard to imagine a consumer spotting the sweater on the rack and believing it’s the “perfect gift” for a particular friend or relative, Chapman acknowledged.
“But when you think about it, especially when we’re moving from a world of materialistic things to experiential and we’re trying to get back more of a moral compass, it’s a sweater in bad taste,” Chapman said. “It shouldn’t be put on the shelf.
“For the $1,500 they might have made, they’re going to inherit $15 million in bad publicity.”
But according to Chapman, sometimes stirring up controversy can work in a company’s favour.
Many recently flocked to social media to complain that Starbucks was abandoning the holiday season, when it released plain red seasonal cups that were unlike their more decorated festive cups from seasons past.
While there was some negative attention, Chapman said the cups created buzz.
“It’s actually a brilliant move on Starbucks’ part, the fact that people are talking about it,” Chapman said.
“Whether they took the Christmas off it or not, what it’s saying to the world is, ‘Hey, our Christmas season has begun, come in and get your gift cards and get your Christmas blend.”