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BW Businessworld

Paying The Price

Photo Credit :

Khan at the event (PTI)

The Malaika-Arbaaz divorce, a publicity gimmick, on the eve of the relaunch of a skin-care product, has led to outrage and companies are drawing the flak for going overboard for sheer publicity. Actor Malaika Arora Khan and her husband Arbaaz Khan are busy issuing denials after the ad campaign fiasco. The company is also on a damage control exercise after the media called them publicity-hungry. It happened on 17 April when a Mumbai newspaper carried a story on Malaika splitting up with Arbaaz.
It turned out that all this building up of the couple “breaking up” was the part of the relaunch of the skin-care product scripted by the company for which media was made the scapegoat. At the event hosted by Pond's the next day, it was revealed that the couple were not breaking up but were being remarried. The event had Malaika dressed as Greek goddess Aphrodite and Arbaaz as her handsome lover Adonis. The duo's dance performance ended with the couple renewing their wows onstage by getting married to each other once again.
The follow up story in the same paper alleged that the reporter got tipped off about the split and called up Malaika to confirm the news. “I am not going to confirm your rumour. If Arbaaz is getting re-married, then it'll come out”, is what Malaika is reported to have said.
Pond's and the Khans are not the only ones that have received flak from the public and the media for misleading campaigns and resorting to negative publicity stunts. Here's a list of popular international brands which have gone wrong, some even owned up and apologised for such campaigns later.
When Apple came up with the tag line 'Get A Mac' for its ads in the UK early this year, the company thought it would induce further the cool quotient of the brand. However, those who couldn't possible afford a Mac took offense at the elitist attitude the brand was projecting. The series of ads -- shot against a white background shows a 'Mac' guy in casual clothes while the 'PC' guy dons formal attire -- drew comparison between the two brands and ends with the PC guy being frustrated with Mac's laidback attitude.
A media report pointed out that UK consumer buzz around Apple has fallen from +8 to +4 since the ads were screened. What was intended to portray a humorous comparison between the Mac and PC represented by a pair of comedians backfired so badly that the UK version of these ads were withdrawn. As advertising experts in the West pointed, the flaw lay in the casting. While the US ad pair John Hodgman (PC) and Justin Long (Mac) failed miserably, even their UK counterparts David Mitchell and Robert Webb were not accepted by the audience. Viewers complained that the ads reinforced the "smug superiority" stereotype of the typical Mac user, quoted a publication.

Driving The Point
Larger than any mortal needs
with four wheel drive for conditions you'll probably never encounter...
and sized to intimidate other drivers & damage others' cars more than yours gives you false confidence
so you can continue to drive like a heedless jerk
...because you're the only one on the whole damn planet.
This is one of the several messages GM received when it gave the public an opportunity to create a 30-second video ad on its website for the 2007 launch of Chevy Tahoe. A series of messages on global warming and anti-SUV viral ads flooded the website instead of user-generated ads for Chevy Tahoe. The forum for this negative publicity was quickly wiped out from the company website. "It's a part of playing in this space," GM spokesperson, who maintains the campaign was a success, was quoted as saying in The New York Times.

Street Smart

In 2005, Sony tried to woo public for its PlayStation Portable through ads masquerading as street art. The company hired building walls in major cities such as San Francisco, Miami and New York and hired a bunch of artists to paint pictures of kids playing with the gadget.

Even as the colours were drying on the wall, a different story was brewing online. Led my former graffiti artist and later a prominent New York blogger, Jake Dobkin, attacked Sony's idea of popularising the product using the media of street art, which was sacrosanct to the art community. The campaign was derided as people viewed it as an "attempt to buy the credibility of street art" reported

More backlash followed online as dozens of art lovers online spoke against the use of street art to lure people into buying the product. As a result, several of these ads were defaced and instead people posted messages on these walls such as "Corporate vandals not welcome". The Sony campaign even had the Philadelphia Mayor ordering the company to remove the caricatures from the walls.

Cleaning Up The Mess
While it is the easiest and less expensive way of promoting the brand, using internet as a platform to market the brand can also be unpredictable like how this household product Cillit Brand, the name of cleaning products brought out by Reckitt Benckiser, found out. TV commercials of Cillit Brand is represented by its popular fictional character Barry Scott who shows housewives how good the brand is.

In 2005, the company's marketing team left messages on several blogs and websites signed off as Barry. When bloggers and surfers discovered that Barry Scott wasn't just one person but a full-fledged marketing team scouting around to popularise the brand and the fictional character, they saw red. The viral ads were severely criticised by the online community. To avoid further damage, company officials admitted it was a gimmick turned sour and apologised for their intrusion. "We recognise that it was inappropriate in context," read the apology letter written by the officials.

In The Dead Of The Night
In another instance, when the advertising agency of Dr Pepper (owned by Cadbury Schweppes) tried to promote the product in Boston, the contest backfired and the company had to shell out a huge amount to "reimburse" the intangible loss which the act caused. The promotion involved a treasure hunt where people were asked to find a hidden coin on the basis of clues provided by the company. The clues, however, led to a 300-odd-year-old burial ground in the city, which remained closed on that particular day as its walkways had become icy.

The officials soon learnt of the contest and rushed to protect the historically important property where Benjamin Franklin's family, among other important names, rest. The cemetery was soon locked just in case more treasure hunters got it right. The company later cancelled the contest and apologised to scores of city dwellers for disrespecting the dead, and more so, for causing a possible harm to a famous cemetery where the nation's ancestors were buried. The company is said to have donated $10,000 to the cemetery.

"The coin should never have been placed in such a hallowed site, and we sincerely apologise," Dr Pepper spokesman is reported to have said.
BW Online Bureau
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