The title is the Latin fundamental, "First do no harm" which is drilled into the heads of just about everyone going into medicine. It seems to be a matter of common sense, but the medical folks seem to think that, as bright as med students are, it bears emphasis. It ought to be pounded into the thick skulls of advertising people and several CEO's, as well. The first order of business in advertising should be, no matter what the ad campaign is intended to communicate, don't insult, offend and go out of your way to alienate the customers.
What could possibly have been going through the heads of the folks at Jetson Appliances in Florida when they decided to build an ad campaign around the word 'bullshit' – then blast it into people's living rooms … during a showing of The Cat In The Hat … to children … on the Hallmark Channel … on Thanksgiving day? I have a hard time thinking of anything less intelligent. It seems to be the polar opposite of driving the business around the principles of creating value for customers.
Likewise, Spirit Air, which enjoys perhaps the worst reputation for customer service in the airline business, has long been noted for ads that insult and offend the flying public. This chump of an airline had more complaints in 2008 than Northwest and Southwest combined - airlines twice their size by any measure. I cannot imagine what sort of people spend money on ads that offend everyone from Latinos to the Christian community, all the while utterly failing to provide basic service to the paying customers. What sort of strategy is built on lousy value for the customers, compounded by insulting advertising?
The British Advertising Standards Association had to ban an ad for some TV show because the ad was built around the premise that people with red hair are unattractive. According to Wikipedia, 2-6% of the folks in the show's demographic have red hair. What sort of moron decides that the starting point for advertising is to drive 2-6% of the audience away before they do anything else? At least the ASA had the sense to save these idiots from themselves. In the case of Jetson Appliance and Spirit Air, the entire chain from ad agency to marketing department to executive approval to ad production to the broadcasters had no such voice of common sense rising up and pointing out the lunacy of the ads.
Worst – not because their ads are worse, but because it points out how far they have fallen (and continue to fall) – is Toyota. From one side of the Toyota mouth, they billed themselves as the greenest of green companies and turned the Prius into a status symbol among the extremists of environmentalism. On the other side of the Toyota mouth they openly supported the US Chamber of Commerce in their efforts to kill the Cap & Trade legislation. Telling customers what they wanted to hear in order to drive sales – then behaving in a manner that proves the ad to be a lie – is just plain dumb no matter what anyone feels about the environmental issue. Far better to have said nothing other than the facts; and to have stayed focused on the value proposition than trying to make a few bucks by jumping on a political bandwagon.
But Toyota did not stop at insulting its green customers after having duped them into buying a Prius. No, the modern day descendants of Ohno and the rest managed to offend fathers, daughters and family centered folks from one end of Australia to the other with an advertisement that is built around a conversation between a young lady's father and her boyfriend about the merits of the boyfriend having sex with the young lady in a Toyota Yaris. If he could, Kiichiro Toyoda would come up from the grave and throttle his grandson for allowing the great old company to sink so low.
Creative advertising is great, and the limits of what is and what is not in good taste have broadened, but there is still a line out there, across which only the intellectually challenged go – or the desperate. To those who believe that sex sells, or that profanity sells, I would argue that it may have some short term shock value that draws attention, but in the long haul only value sells. And there is a certain segment of the customer base who will never even evaluate the value proposition because they have been so insulted and offended – completely unnecessarily – by the sex and profanity laced advertising.
Whether Toyota is doing their level best to dupe, mislead or shock customers into buying their products out of lunacy or desperation, they are not the same company the lean community once aspired to emulate.