Freak Week: Keeps on Ticking

Some testimonials are black and white. This one’s black and blue. Last month, 80-year-old Formula One racing boss Bernie Ecclestone was attacked outside his London office by muggers who made off with his special-edition Hublot wristwatch, among other valuables. Ecclestone, who was badly beaten, promptly called up the company and suggested it photograph the aftermath for an ad. Hublot agreed, and rolled out the ad, featuring Ecclestone’s bruised and battered face, along with the tagline, “See what people will do for a Hublot.” The marketer’s CEO, Jean-Claude Biver, explained to the BBC: “He told us, ‘Please use it to make an advertising campaign because I want to show that I’m courageous.’ I thought, ‘Wow, this guy has some guts.’ It is also a protestation against violence that we are all afraid of today.” On that last point, not everyone agreed. In fact, some thought it flippant. “Although it appears Bernie Ecclestone can make light of the incident and get on with his life, for many victims of mugging, the impact can be devastating, leaving them fearful to leave the house and unable to move on,” a Victim Support spokesman told the BBC. “Hublot is a luxury brand which seems to be making light of crime in order to sell a product, and this advert could be seen as insensitive to victims who are not in a similar position to Bernie.”

Meanwhile, Johnnie Walker and BBH courted controversy of their own with a new 90-second spot that advances the “Keep walking” tagline by featuring a man who can’t walk—Belgian triathlete Marc Herremans, who’s been paralyzed from the chest down since a 2002 bike-training accident. In the spot, Herremans rises from his racing wheelchair and takes several steps before turning to look at himself in the chair, still unable to walk but determined to move forward with his ambition of being a world champion. “When your reality changes, your dreams don’t have to,” he says in the voiceover. It’s a provocative choice, reminiscent of the old Super Bowl ad for Nuveen Investments that showed Christopher Reeve walking again. That spot provoked an outcry, but Reeve stuck by it. He told Adweek in 2000: “It was not an irresponsible commercial. Time magazine had an editorial condemning me for raising false hope. It was written by a journalist who had been in a wheelchair for 22 years—and I can understand his cynicism. After that much time in a wheelchair, how can one dare to hope?”

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