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When brands try to tug on heart strings…but fail.

May 18, 2017

The modern world is a sensitive place. Particularly online. Being so connected, we quickly can share our opinions, negative or positive. Before you know it, what might have seemed like a standard campaign has become a viral case, but not always for the right reason.

Brands have little control of the reaction to a campaign once it’s gone live. It’s not as simple as taking down a poster in your shop window if it doesn’t go so well. It can spread like wildfire through the internet and on social media. You can’t do anything to rid of it completely.

Creative agencies have a duty to anticipate cultural sensitivities when in the process of creating campaigns. This can be done through thorough cultural research, consumer research and testing.

This is most difficult for mass market brands as their consumers come from all different types of interest groups that will have all sorts of opinions. Therefore, there’s a much higher chance that some groups will be offended.

If your brand has a more niche consumer group, it can be much easier to work out what they will or won’t respond well to.

Here are some mass market brands that haven’t done this so well recently;


If you’ve been listening in on the news in the past couple of days, you’ll more than likely be aware of the McDonalds advert that has recently been pulled from your TV screens.

The advert was about a boy asking his mother what his father was like, and whether they had any similarities. Up until they end they didn’t have so many similarities, but what they did have in common was their favourite meal order from McDonalds.

As the key emotion of the advert was bereavement, this caused much upset for those who’d lost family members or even friends.

Shortly after the adverts release, there were bereavement charities in uproar and plenty of the general public all over social media. It wasn’t long until McDonald’s responded and made the decision to pull the advert from TV.


It’s not just McDonald’s who’ve been under fire for insensitive advertising. Pepsi created a campaign that was trying to promote the message of global unity, peace and understanding. But, unfortunately, it didn’t come across that way.

The advert, featuring celebrity star Kendall Jenner, included peace protests whilst she’s having a photo-shoot. Next thing you know, she comes out and joins in the protest whilst holding a can of Pepsi, to then offer it to one of the police officers as a peace offering. This was seen as an imitation to when Leisha Evans was seen offering peace at the Baton Rouge.


This campaign wasn’t as emotionally intense compared to the McDonalds and Pepsi advert, but it did take offence to many women. Dove, who are normally known for empowering women and creating highly successful campaigns promoting body positivity, made a recent campaign that flopped.

They released a range of body-shaped body wash bottles that were meant to represent the different shapes and sizes of women’s figures.

People started complaining about why they would need to buy a bottle of body wash that is the same shape of their body and what they would do if their ‘size’ was out of stock.

There was some talk that the products were never going to be on sale, it was just for the video campaign, but even after this announcement, it still didn’t go very well.


With brands having to be so careful about what they put out there, does this stifle creativity?

It shouldn’t have to, but it is important that campaigns featuring sensitive topics should be trialled and tested with focus groups before going out to the general public. An insensitive advert, even if it’s only out live for a moment, can cause havoc for brands.


However, there are brands who’ve managed to create campaigns on sensitive topics but keeping them uplifting and positive.

Going back to Dove, for example, they created a campaign in the past on body positivity that handled the sensitive subject really well.  Their ‘Real Beauty Sketches’ campaign explored the gap between how other perceive us and how we perceive ourselves. It didn’t focus on the brands’ products, it focused on the emotions. In the advert, each woman has two portraits drawn by a forensic artist, one based on their personal description and the other by a stranger. The results of the advert were deeply moving but highly positive. Have a watch of the video to see for yourselves.

It’s so important to know who your audience is and how they might react to a campaign bringing in sensitive subjects. Never assume that it’ll be taken down well, avoid the corporate bubble.




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