Tuesday, June 03, 2008

America Runs on Terrorism

In America's futile effort to wipe out terrorism, we are searching for terrorism in every corner of the country. And apparently this search includes hidden symbols in advertising.

Recently, Dunkin' Donuts pulled one of their national Internet spots because of backlash over a scarf television chef Rachel Ray was wearing while promoting the Massachusetts-based coffee chain.

Apparently the scarf worn above is similar in design to the scarves worn by Muslim men called a kaffiyeh. This scarf, according to those offended by the ad, is often worn by those associated with terrorism. This particular scarf style was probably most notably brought to the world stage by Arafat, seen here:

I could go on a long rant about the public overreaction to the scarf (I mean, if you squint they kind of look similar...), but I will spare you in hopes that your own common sense has already informed you that this whole situation is ridiculous. Instead, let's look at the reaction from Dunkin' Donuts.

According to CNNMoney.com, Dunkin' pulled the "ad that began appearing online May 7...because 'the possibility of misperception detracted from its original intention to promote our iced coffee.'"

From a pure marketing mindset, this was the one and only correct option for Dunkin'. Pull they ad, chalk it up to an accident, reaffirm that it was not done intentionally, and let the issue fade into the ether. There was really no other option. Anything else would have tarnished the Dunkin' brand more than it already has been.

At the same time, I would love to see a major company take the risk and push back against the unfounded obsession both with terrorism and political correctness. While the idea that Dunkin' Donuts is a secret terrorist supporter or, even worse, a hidden cell of terror in America is a fairly interesting and perhaps not impossible conspiracy, it is safe to say that this proposition is most unlikely. Why a major U.S. brand would even attempt to show support for Islamic fundamentalism or terrorism is beyond me. And beyond anyone for that matter. They have nothing to gain.

With that, what do they have to apologize for? When is someone going to stand up for common sense? Dunkin' had every right to continue running the online ad. It's obvious that Dunkin' did not mean this ad to be a shout out to all of their terrorists friends, its supposed to sell coffee.

The sentiment that this whole situation is ridiculous seems to be shared by most, or at least by those I have talked to about it. All advertising is open to being misconstrued, so, if in this particular case, there is a large body of people within Dunkin's target audience that thinks the scarf issue has been blown out of proportion, why not cater to them? Why not leave the ad running and say that the common sense of Americans will overcome whatever misperceptions there are about the ad? Often, we are too quick to concede to the boisterous few while ignoring the silent majority.

Ultimately, the strategy of standing up for common sense is shaky at best. But, it would be fun to watch something like that to play out and common sense is an interesting brand quality.


HelloMyNamesJen said...

The biggest change in the new(est) age of advertising is that marketers - agencies and companies alike - aren't taking the same risks they did before. Not just in their message, but in their model. (Actually, there was an interesting interview with a venture capitalist in AADigital about 'the model' today.) Anyway, I agree with you wholeheartedly. When did the "brand manager" become "protector of all that which is P.C."? ::sigh:: Oh right. An extreme arm of public relations, and paranoia and (dare I say) ignorance, particularly in a "post-9/11 world." Thoughts?

lgibson said...

Taking into consideration the necessity to walk on eggshells in the 'post 9/11' world (I hate that phrase, by the way, but I can't come up with an appropriate substitute), marketers today are also starring down a poor economy. That's right. I said it. POOR.

In the last week, airlines cut flights and increased ticket prices and GM announced substantial layoffs that includes shutting down plants. Yesterday the unemployment rate jumped .5% in one month, the largest jump in 20 years, the cost of oil spiked more than $11, and the stock market lost 395 points, the largest one-day loss in the last 15 months.

Goodbye, risk. We'll see you again when we can afford you.

The inability to take risk is only going to fuel the Internet fire. Cost-effective and unique, we have probably only seen the tip of the iceberg of online advertising. Cue Web2.0.