Yesterday, for one of the first times in Trinidad and Tobago, a social media mob was able to tackle and take down two advertising giants in one fell swoop – Angostura Ltd and their media agency, McCann Erickson. [Skip to paragraph three if you know the story…]
What riled the usually placable crowd of rabble-rousers on Facebook was an advertisement in the daily newspapers for Angostura’s Single Barrel Rum that featured a rather intense looking male model advising you that a drink of Single Barrel Rum will help you avoid the ‘friend zone’ by offering her a ‘real drink’ in keeping with the campaign as the rum being the ultimate wingman.
There are several issues in the mix – and the primary one is that marketing any social drug is fraught with danger. Pushing the point is sometimes necessary to make an impact on an over-saturated public but this point was sadly pushed into the ‘date-rape’ zone which is what everyone thought the ad was poised on the brink of. Not many women drink rum (in proportion to men) so that it was an effort to have men both buy the rum, and for women to see the purchase as a compliment. But when your model is that intense and seems to almost be forcibly pushing himself on her – there is a small problem. All in all, it was a case of the copy hurting rather than helping the photography and layout. Who is to blame when the agency and the client both think it is a good idea then?
Well, according to Facebook today. Everyone. The mass outcry on the ad has now pushed the agency and the company to rescind the ad and publish a Facebook apology on their Angostura fan page. After all, with open letters to the James Smith, head of the agency and a petition filed on change.org (http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/we-did-it-angostura-has-said-they-will-pull-the-ad-thank-you-all) what other choice DID they have? The truth is, without the power of social media, the ad would have remained. Kudos to people power.
More importantly, this brings us to the role of the ad agency as it currently stands. Again, agencies are generally insulated beings with their staff generally buried neck deep in discovery, market segmentation and studies of demographics, when some of the most important assets for any agency to have is the power to determine what people’s perceptions of the outputs are (product testing) as well as for the ability of the oft-forgotten art of candid and open-minded discussion. The agency must never forget the world that it exists in, especially as it has changed so viciously and suddenly. If that many people in the general public thought the ad pointed to something sinister, what about the people that worked on it for the past few days or heavens-forbid, months.
Machismo Dominated Culture
Our one problem with the ad (apart from the obvious) is that it continues a trend of marketing so prevalent in our machismo culture. Buy a girl a drink and the rest is all easy street. The power lies in the hands of the man. What about if the ad carried a woman that enjoyed rum simply for its sophistication. Because it is dark and multi-layered and mesmerizing? If she was the one offering the drink we may not have been as offended sure. But what about empowering the woman to make that purchase for herself. If you look at your demographics and studies you will surely find that women don’t buy rum as much and therefore probably shouldn’t be marketed to. But if you look at your Facebook wall tonight, you probably realise that women shouldn’t also be marketed AT.
Trinidad lost it’s social media virginity – ironically in a bid to save the woman in the ad from likely losing hers.
— Huckleberry Media Company salutes McCann Erickson and Angostura for taking heed, rescinding the ad and issuing an apology – something that is rare and definitely worth recognising in our culture and our country.