3 things wrong with the Mountain Dew racism controversy.

Last week, Mountain Dew was accused of putting racists commercials done by Tyler, the Creator on the internet. The spots (which depicted a battered woman and a police line up of black men) were quickly removed. In the same course of action, Pepsi cancelled Lil’ Wayne’s endorsement with the brand for his past lyrics being both misogynistic and insensitive to a pretty racist incident in American history.

There are numerous reasons why the entire situation as a whole is wrong, but probably only three that are important as it relates to advertising and social responsibility.

1) Questions need to be asked about a spot or product before it is released to the public. There should be a responsible person (or group) reviewing creative as part of the screening phase before it’s churned out to the masses.

This person (or group) would be responsible for asking questions like “Will someone find this offensive?” or “Can this be reasonable construed as culturally insensitive by the group being portrayed?”. 

The first question is the most important. In the US, there’s a massive portion of the population adversely affected in everyday life by pesky things like racism and misogyny. This being the case, it amazes me how much is released to the public without having gone through some stage of questions when portrayals of individuals in those affected groups are used.

Without asking questions and knowing the society we all live in, products like Oreo Barbie are harmlessly made, and ads portraying negative stereotypes are given the green-light.  Honestly, the only time it’s appropriate for stereotypes or negative images of women are during PSAs intended to stop both problems. Neither of those things should be used as the basis for humor in advertising.

2) Artists (particularly men) who dabble in the finer aspects of inappropriate content probably shouldn’t be used to endorse brands from the get go. This statement is a tricky one. Using a celebrity (especially an entertainer) to endorse a brand or product is a lucrative decision. It could equate to the perception that your brand is, for a lack of a better term, “cool”, among that celebrity’s fan base which could ultimately lead to those same fans buying your product/service.

However, there’s always a “pros and cons” list  to be considered when using any celebrity. Celebrities (athletes included) are human. Humans mess up, express unfavorable opinions, and sometimes creatively express thoughts that are inappropriate to many a great deal of people. If those humans mess up while endorsing a brand, the perception of the brand is put into jeopardy. While morality clauses do exist, you can’t guarantee that athletes aren’t going to use steroids, or that they won’t murder their wives. In fact, these things actually make a good case for using fictional characters as the face of a brand like Kool-Aid man, the Jolly Green Giant and The Pillsbury Dough Boy. Their behavior is predictable and controllable by the brand and no one else (unless they one day become sentient creatures).

Lil’ Wayne has his endorsement with Pepsi cut.

In Lil’ Wayne’s case, he was caught in a maelstrom of controversy involving two topics he unfortunately covered (pretty inappropriately) in a song. His creative was brought to the forefront when Mountain Dew was trying to distance itself from those two topics, so Pepsi made the decision to cut ties with the artist. It’s important to note that his endorsement deal was cut after the perceivably racist spot was shown.This is important because of the third point:

3) Ignorant creative shouldn’t be made in the first place…For advertisingIt’s one thing to have misogyny in music. That’s freedom of expression and everyone has a right to it, no matter how harmful it is. Lil’ Wayne is actually one of the few rap artists that I like, but like almost all rap artists (not to be confused with conscious hip-hop), he says some pretty misogynistic things, albeit to some pretty good beats.  This doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be able to have lucrative endorsement deals, but it also doesn’t mean that those same harmful themes should make their way into the marketing communications for a company or brand. That’s just socially irresponsible. This concept can be explained by the following set of statements:

-Eminem (who rapped frequently about violent acts toward his wife) in a Chrysler commercial = Acceptable.

-Eminem in a Chrysler commercial portraying violence against a woman = Unacceptable.

Having a controversial brand endorser is one thing. Making controversial advertising is another thing entirely.

There are other issues at play here. Like, can ads truly be seen as perpetuating racial stereotypes if they’re created by members of the societal group being adversely affected by those stereotypes in society.* However, this post is only about how the recent Mountain Dew controversy was wrong in the world of advertising and marketing communications.

And given that I’ve seen at least two pieces of creatives come out of shops dealing with suicide and women being kidnapped in the first four months of this year, I doubt this is the last offensive event that happens in advertising in 2013…unfortunately.

*The answer is yes.

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