Tuesday, 8 December 2009

When does edgy become creepy: The Shiny Suds Ad....

     Advertising, some would say, is all about pushing the barriers to cut through today's fog of marketing noise. Be it through content, platform or delivery innovations, the need for advertisements to generate awareness and staying power in an increasingly habituated consumer's mind is a driving force behind a lot of the creativity we see today. The drive to innovate within content can lead to a multitude of impressive advertisements showing off visual innovations, musical collaborations or a host of other ideas to garner attention. In the drive to advance content, one generally easy way is to challenge the viewer's sensibilities with edgy or 'cusp of the social norm envelope' writing and creative. Viewers are more likely to remember something that shocks them, so a reasonable expectation is that creating something which can do so, easily solves the problem of viewer habituation.

London's Cabwise "Know what you're getting into"campaign against the use of unlicensed mini-cabs is very jarring, but uses such to bring about social change

      However, through pushing edgy content, one has to be mindful of the border between shocking and revolting. Viewers that are shocked, but still in their comfort zone, can be drawn in by a captivating, possibly humorous and novel advertising message. However, those pulled outside of what they are ready to culturally ingest may remember your message in a less than positive way. Perhaps most of all, edgy advertising has to consider not only what overall society finds offensive and acceptable, but also what the target market's sub group will allow. In some ways, an advertisement that causes some general outrage and discussion can be a useful tool to raise awareness, as long as the target market isn't too alienated to interact with the brand.

     With that in mind, the current controversy around Method's 'Shiny Suds' ad seems to typify striking a balance between memorable and slightly creepy. Method, the household cleaner maker, has decided to pull an ad which drew the ire of various rights groups due to what was claimed to be a depiction of rape type elements. The ad, which I don't believe goes as far as some of the claims thrown against it, does personally give off a slightly creepy feel, something I don't believe is the intended outcome.

"Shiny Suds" - Not really NSFW, but you might get some odd looks...

     As shown above, the advertisement centers around Method's focus on left behind chemicals, something their organic line can use as a decided advantage against other products, visualized as a group of anthropomorphic bubbles. While at first capturing less than full attention simulating an actual 'Shiny Suds' cleaner ad, the real messaging begins once the pseudo ad is over. As the housewife from the faux advert enters her bathroom the next morning, the bubbles are still present, firmly refusing to leave and finally watching her shower, cheering on the presence of a Luffa.

     The brief description of the second part of the advertisement doesn't seem horribly offensive to most on paper (definitely not warranting comments about rape elements), however, in its actual execution, one does feel a slight sense of revulsion. The slightly lurid, all male voicing of the bubbles does seem to convey some ominous foreshadowing, in a lugubrious tone that might be better fit for a dingy bar than the bathtub. Do I think Method set out to create such an advertising experience? Probably not. But I do think the initial goal of making chemical residue revolting, combined with the voice-over elements and the extension of certain scenes combined to make what could have been a possibly funny & cheeky execution into something rather awkward in parts.

     Am I offended by the overall advertisement? Not really. But importantly, I'm not the target market. I'm a 27 year old guy who purchases cleaners sporadically at best. I've never considered what chemicals are in my shower, nor would I care if they stuck around (as long as they keep cleaning and didn't start talking). For what I assume is a majority female target market, I don't see why someone didn't consider how the creative would be taken.I believe at some level, Method was attempting to make a memorable viral, something that would drive conversation about the brand while being passed around for the frat boyish humor of the bubbles. However, as we talked about earlier, the goal of pushing the envelope is to challenge the intended viewer's sensibilities, not alienate them. Even if a majority of the target market found the ad funny, the awkwardness of some of its presentation limits any viral potential or long term messaging it has. People pass on messages to others because they want to be attributionally part of the idea, something this may have a hard time starting due to worries about other's reactions to it.

     While what seems to be the intended message for the ad, "Buy Organic Cleaner or Be the Pleasure Object of Compound Chemicals" is a tough execution from the beginning, they really did seem to miss the mark. I don't condemn Method for making the ad and I certainly don't accuse them of intentionally making anything horribly misogynistic, but I do think they've clearly illustrated the need to understand the line between palatable edgy and otherwise.

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