Freak Week: Pulling No Punches

Shock tactics are nothing new in PSAs. If anything, the groups that produce them tend to test the limits of taste, feeling justified that their humanitarian ends justify the means. But as we saw with two European campaigns this month, there are limits to what viewers will take, and consequences for crossing the line.

First, a Danish group called Children Exposed to Violence at Home introduced a Web site called “Hit the Bitch!” Bizarrely, it was intended to be pro-woman and anti-violence, but visitors might have thought the opposite. Set up as a kind of advergame, the site encourages you to slap and punch a woman on the screen over and over. Eventually the woman collapses, and you get called a “100% idiot” for hitting her — a rebuke that seems more than a little weak. Feminist groups and others flew into a rage. A few people trotted out the tired argument that the flood of negative attention at least shed some light on the problem. If anything, the site became part of the problem.

Similarly, in England, an anti-pollution PSA by sparked controversy for its own violent imagery — of polar bears falling to their deaths from the sky. The idea was to illustrate an obscure statistic: that the average European airplane flight produces, per passenger, some 900 pounds of greenhouse gases — the weight of an adult polar bear. How the agency, Mother in London, made the leap to polar bears smashing on sidewalks is anyone’s guess. The capper was the eerie skyscraper setting, which touched off memories of 9/11 for many viewers. Again, the argument was made that the spot needed to be provocative to break through. But as one AdFreak reader wrote: “People are still just disgusted by it and are less likely to support a cause supported by people who would go to [such] lengths to disgust other people.”

Balancing out that pair of downers, two humorous campaigns: The first was a goofy print effort from Draftfcb in Vienna, Austria, advertising condomi’s fruit-flavored condoms. Judging by the expressions on the faces of the men, the product’s flavors might be a bit too realistic.

The other was a spot by droga5 for Method cleaning products. The clip shows a rival company’s scrubbing bubbles singing in the commercial. But after the ad finishes, they hang around to leer at a woman showering. Deep down, the chemicals are dirty, the spot explains, and then directs viewers to Method’s environmentally friendly products instead.

Best of BrandFreak: Barbie enjoying her 50th birthday

AdFreak’s sister blog, BrandFreak, has been following Mattel’s celebration of Barbie’s 50th birthday for some time. Last week, we learned about some more luxurious tie-ins. Assouline Publishing has released a fancy, limited-edition book of Barbie photos and artwork, shipped in a pink, cloth-bound slipcase, for $500. French designer Christian Louboutin has designed a special pair of not-so-sensible shoes modeled after Barbie’s high-altitude pumps, rendered in shocking Pantone No. 219 pink. (No price available.) And the Palms hotel in Las Vegas has thrown open the doors of the Barbie Suite — 2,350 square feet covered in pink chintz and stuffed with Barbie-type furnishings like white-wire chairs and mirrored dressers. Only $4,000 a night! Amazing that such lofty brand extensions can be based on a doll that cost $3 when it debuted in 1959 and can still be picked up at Walmart for about $35.