When advertising plunges to pathetic lows

I’ve written previously about the use of patriotism in advertising (click to read). I mentioned that, done well, patriotic imagery and feelings can serve to hyper-charge a creative idea, immediately dialing up on emotion, relevance and even comprehension.

What I neglected to mention was that, done poorly, the result can be something crass, cheap, boorish, and completely lacking in basic civility. Why didn’t I write about this? Quite honestly because I couldn’t think of any examples, I thought this was not something you would find in today’s advertising world. But I was wrong.

On Friday, a friend posted this commercial on Facebook. It’s a real ad, titled “homage to the fallen and veterans of the Malvinas War” (Malvinas is the Argentine name for the Falkland Islands). It was produced for the Argentine government by Y&R in Argentina, drumming up a little fervor in anticipation of the coming Olympic games in London.

Below is what I wrote under his post – I’ll share it with you because I think it reflects my immediate gut feel upon seeing it. In case you don’t know, I’m from Argentina and fairly patriotic – so presumably I’m the target audience!

“Are you posting this because it’s something you like, or the opposite? Because I thought it was TREMENDOUSLY idiotic. It starts off nicely, with a solemn touch and nice interest level. But this thing of ‘we train on Argentine soil’…please – that’s the provocation you’d expect from a 10 year old kid! Regardless of whether we all think that “the Malvinas are Argentine”, the reality today is another, and the Kelpers are pretty clear on this point. Going to someone else’s home under false pretenses, and then to air this, it’s just pathetic. Besides, with all the greatness of Argentine sport today (soccer, basketball, hockey, tennis, etc.) to unearth a crass nationalism from 30 years ago I think it’s frankly beyond words…”

I still feel the same way today. Interestingly, so does Y&R Corporate. Below is a press release from them (can’t remember the last time, if ever, that I see an agency issuing a denouncement of a real ad from within its own network!)

NEW YORK — It has come to our attention that our agency in Argentina created an ad for the Argentine government that has deeply offended many people in the UK and around the world. We strongly condemn this work and have asked the Argentine government to pull the spot. 

While we don’t believe it was ever the intention of the ad’s creators to desecrate a war memorial, they behaved in a manner that is unacceptable to our company. Furthermore it is against our policy to be involved in anything that is politically motivated. In addition, this spot was also offensive to the Olympics spirit. Whatever it was the creators set out to highlight, what they produced is contrary to everything that we as a company stand for. 

We are deeply regretful for the pain this ad has caused and apologize to the many who have been rightly disturbed by it, as have we. 

If it were up to me, I would like to see an apology from Y&R Argentina to all of us (not just the Brits). I would like to see the ECD take responsibility here, because something like this does not leave the house without everyone having signed off on it. And yes, I would like to see heads roll…but only if it’s at the very top (the poor 23-year-old art director that’s going to get blamed probably has more to give, and he will learn his lesson. Plus, the cinematography wasn’t bad.)

What is the lesson here? In general terms, that the extremes are always bad. That you need to have a little class, a little judgment. That passion needs to be tempered by perspective. I could go on.

I think we should expect much more from advertising. It should be a force for good, a medium for elevating our human experience. Not this crap. Shame on you, Y&R. Verguenza, chicos – en serio.


PS: Ouch. This one is going to hurt. http://www.adweek.com/news/advertising-branding/wpp-chief-sorrell-appalled-yr-falklands-olympics-spot-140048

Update May 8: One of the comments below reveals that this is even more deplorable than I thought. Turns out this is one of those “coat hanger idea” ads – a floating idea created independently of any client or business need – for which then you go and hunt a client after the fact. They shot the film, then went after two media groups to “brand” it. Having some class, they refused. But you can almost always find someone to pin their name on it, when you’re footing the entire bill. Pathetic. I’m hoping that Martin Sorrell will prevent this from entering the award shows. Let’s see if proper manners wins out.

11 thoughts on “When advertising plunges to pathetic lows

  1. Deliberately antagonistic and a really low shot. I’m sure the shot of him kissing the beach during the push-ups will be met with cheers in certain suburbs of BA. Like you I hope the senior folk who thought this was a great idea should get sh*t-canned.

    • More than anyone getting fired, I’d like for them not to be able to submit this offensive scam ad into award shows. That would be the biggest punishment to the way these people operate.

  2. Hola Martin! Hope you are well! Thanks for your thoughts! This is more of the same crap we get everyday! The difference is that this is meant to make us look as if we can make fun of the British, we are so creative, irreverent, etc. This is like Diego’s ‘hand Of God’ but worse, it is based on a lie, that goal also, but it is something that can happen during a match. This is not even a true story of an ahelete that will compete in London, not even the concept is true! This guy is a hockey player, he will not go to the games, he did not know he was shooting a spot for the government!
    This will make Martin Mercado win even more money now, it is how it works, everybody is talking about the creative agency! They had the idea and tried to sell it first to Clarín, then to TyC (both media companies that are not aligned with the government), both said no. So they went to the government!
    I hope we grow up some day!

    • Thanks, Paula! This inside info only reinforces my belief that this whole thing is completely void of class or pride in our industry. I’m glad you think this way and I’m sure there are many others in Argentina – we need to speak up. I’ll be keeping an eye on the Martin Sorrell “investigation”, to see where it ends up. Would be nice if for once “la viveza Argentina” gets rejected – maybe people will start thinking differently.

  3. Hola Martin – totally agree with you. I have to say, I was pretty embarrassed too. But I did not for a minute blame the advertising industry, but rather Cristina, as she paid for it and aired it 2 hours after some event in which she reclaimed the Falklands. It doesn’t reflect poorly on the ad industry, but on her, on her government, and very sadly nad unfairly, on the country’s image. The Argies are generally clever and funny and, if it weren’t for the nasty habit they have of beating us at every sport (I am Chilean by the way), I could even say I really liked them. But this crass nationalism is really beneath them and is just pathetic. If I were an Argie I’d be so @#$%^& mad about the whole thing… Rene

    • Hola Rene, thanks for posting. I’ll stay out of the politics side of the argument, because others can weigh in with more fluency than I can…

      But on the advertising side…I wouldn’t let the agency off as easily as you have. You see…they went out and shot this idea even before they knew who was going to pay for it. Then they went and tried to sell it to a whole bunch of companies, until they found a buyer.

      So, in my mind, the “own” the idea. It is theirs, regardless of what hapless client then went and put their logo on it. To now claim that it is no longer the agency’s and that they have no control over it is technically true, but ethically lacking. What’s lacking here is common ethics, maturity, perspective, empathy, etc., the list is long. It reflects poorly on Y&R, on the Argentine ad industry, and on the country, and on everyone involved with it, although a few might not yet have the ability to see it. Amazing what a little ad can do!

      • I guess, paradoxically, that if it had been an add for a sports company, they would have gotten a whole lot of free publicity from all the scandal. Doesn’t that sometimes pay off? Maybe not Nike and Adidas, which are well known and global and can only lose from sth like this, but maybe a smaller company would have gotten a lot of visibility. Maybe Topper or a company like that (do they even exist anymore?)

      • You are being too kind. Trust me, there’s no way to save this because it’s borne out of a thuggish provocation. The idea itself, as expressed by the tagline “to compete in English soil, we train in Argentine soil” is absolutely radioactive.

        Smaller brands would no more benefit from this PR scandal than large ones. The way to make a name for yourself when you’re the “David” is of course to provoke, to disrupt…but in a way that draws people to you, not that repels.

        The interesting thing is that, without trying too hard, one can make this ad into a winner. Leave everything the same, but switch the tagline to something like
        “The thoughts of our athletes are already in England. So is their sweat, blood and tears”…or
        “This summer, Olympic glory awaits in England. Some, just couldn’t wait to get started”…or


  4. Apparently y&r made it on spec and then pitched it, which fuels the argument further just how sad this was.

    In all seriousness though, it hasn’t come off that offensive in the UK as its such a cheap shot, it doesn’t hold any merit.

    Have you seen the Carlsberg ad from Fold7 with a little dig back? http://wp.me/p1YqS8-3T

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