An Analysis of a Digital Ad Gone Unexpectedly Wrong

While scrolling multiple web pages and social media platforms, we can now find many ads that address social issues in one way or another. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always go as planned. Only a few advertisers and brands know the art of addressing a social issue with responsibility. On the other hand, majority of advertisers or marketers fail to understand that handling a social issue through digital ads is not everybody’s cup of tea. Lack of awareness, knowledge, and empathy regarding a social issue lead to disastrous digital ads.

Recently, I also came across a digital ad that was so creepy that it instantly pissed me off. It made me want to shut off my tab, but I gathered the courage and decided to dig deeper into it to address it.

Here is the ad I am talking about:

First, marketers and advertisers need to realize that “social issues” are not a JOKE. There is literally nothing funny about them. I wonder what goes through their minds while making such a creepy ad. Is it fair to use a social issue and hit sensitive people on their heads with this type of ad? Absolutely not. But do brands realize it? I don’t think so. Some brands willingly stoop so low that all they worry about is the gain they get in their sales and growth after making such pathetic digital ads with social issues.    

This particular ad I’m talking about shows a man’s unsuccessful suicide attempt because “The Car (Hyundai)” was too safe to do that. According to the advertiser, the ad was supposed to be funny; however, for many people, it was just a pathetic joke about depression and death. It tried to normalize heartbreak, depression, devastation, and suicidal thoughts. Of course, it triggered a lot of people who have been or are still struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts. It also hit those who lost their loved ones because of depression and suicide.

Advertisers and marketers must learn from this ad’s controversy, fuss, and chaos. They must understand that there is no need to fit any social issue in the ad to drive sales. It shows that they prioritize their desire for sales over the issue’s sensitivity. Advertisers must avoid using it if there is no link to the cause.

The other important thing to highlight is that an ad with a social issue can be impactful only if the company’s culture aligns with it. For instance, if a company’s primary focus is feminism and it promotes it on social media, it must exist within the culture of the company. It must have taken the initiative to promote feminism instead of just using it all of a sudden in promoting the ads on the Internet. Moreover, the company must have a past track record on a similar subject. It must have run multiple campaigns to highlight women empowerment.

The other takeaway for the companies and brands is that they must not jump on the bandwagon. If others are talking about something, it doesn’t mean they should do the same. For instance, many brands and companies started using the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 to promote their growth and sales. And it backfired because people find it quite offensive that brands are exploiting the pandemic to get their audience’s attention. So, it is never a good idea to copy and paste the message. Instead, brands must have a unique point of view to stand out from their competitors.

Another aspect that can make a difference and help the brands is that they must consider both risks and rewards of linking their ads to a social issue. They must analyze various reactions from their audience to ensure that they take a calculated risk. It won’t only help brands but also the sensitive and well-aware audience who get to see them at the end.

On the other hand, if brands ignore the critical issue in the current situation, it can also harm their brand image. For instance, hashtags like #MeToo were trending all over the world. In that case, those brands who remained silent and didn’t take any initiative lost the attention and trust of their audience. In short, talking about a social issue is not bad. However, turning a social issue into a tasteless joke is problematic.

I also believe that marketing teams must get the training to address a social issue in their ads more carefully. Amid the social media crisis, every brand or company needs an experienced marketing team that can make sensible choices to get its voice heard. It’s high time that brands realize their responsibility while addressing the audience through their ads, especially when it involves a social issue. The secret of successful ads lies in the knowledge and awareness of the right tools and methods to help companies master the art of engagement and active listening.

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