Wednesday, January 26, 2005

"Suicide Bomber Sells VW Polo" or "Observer Spins for Volkswagen and Ford?"

The full headline in the Sunday Observer was Suicide Bomber Sells VW Polo - hoax ad takes internet by storm. Right from the tagline they are being deceptive. The "hoax" part turns out to be, at best, debateable.

The article begins with a discription of the ad that has recently been found all over the internet,
The spoof ad opens with the suicide bomber leaving his home and jumping into his VW Polo. The bomber parks at a busy London restaurant where carefree diners crowd the pavement. Cut to the terrorist sitting in his car as he pushes the button to detonate his bomb. The blast is contained within the car, saving the diners. The ad ends: 'Polo. Small but tough'.

The VW ad is very popular, but Volkswagen is not very happy with it. This is not actually culturejammin' although the Observer article seems to suggest that it is, calling it a hoax, in the tagline, and then a spoof, in the first paragragh, and then both a hoax, and bogus, in the fifth paragragh. In the ninth paragragh they use this funny sentence,
The ad is believed to be the work of a duo experienced in spoof ads, known as Lee and Dan, who also make real commercials.

So on the 23rd of January the Observer is writing that the ad is, "believed to be the work of..." but as early as January 20th a pair of advertisers named LAD, or Lee and Dan had admitted to making the ad in an interview on Adland,
"Lee", who refused to give his surname, apologised for the spoof advert, which he said was released accidentally, but refused to say who funded it.

"We made the advert for Volkswagen," said Lee. "We never really intended it for public consumption. It was principally something we made to show people in the industry but it got out somehow.

To show what an epidemic this could turn out to be, the Observer talks about another "ad" from a year ago.
The VW hoax, however, marks a worrying new trend for them - bogus ads which can be made by one individual that can wreck a firm's reputation. Ford had to distance itself last year from a viral email showing a cat's head being cut off by a car's sunroof.

The VW ad, by the way was shot on 35mm and cost around 40 000 pounds, so if it was one individual, he's got quite the trustfund. That figure comes from a January 20th article, in the Guardian that makes many of the same "mistakes." Funny that, basically the same paper making basically the same mistakes. They probably have basically the same friends. The other "bogus" ad they talk about here is mentioned on CNN/Money,
A so-called "viral" ad campaign for Ford's Sportka, a hatchback sold in Europe, that shows a realistic looking cat being decapitated by a power sunroof, surfaced over the Internet in early April, but was quickly disavowed by the automaker.

The idea for the video was one of the two proposals advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather pitched to Ford, but the clip was made without approval from either party, Don Hume, a U.K. spokesperson for Ford, told CNN/Money.

I was initially interested in the article in yesterday's Sunday Observer because it seemed to highlight a case of culturejammin', and that is a subject of endless fascination for me. Then as I was looking for the ad itself to post along with my story, I read some other pieces on the story and some of the passages that I had quoted were not sounding right.

Yes, big corporations are really worried about cyber terrorism in the form of spoof ads that damage a brand or logo value. But the jihadi and the cat; the two examples that are sited, were both cases where Ad folks, not culturejammers, put together spoof-like ads, that the products' companies later have to distance themselves from. But the Observer piece does not convey this very clearly.

When in paragragh two they point out, "...the commercial was not made by the car giant." this is true, but it is also true to say that most, if not all, advertising could be similiarly described. Bush never made any of those TV spots against Kerry, but they sure worked for him.

Decapitated felines and self-immolating jihadis are just the tip of the iceberg. Big corporations shouldn't be worrying about well-intended ads hurting their carefully branded images; they should be concerned about the folks who do it on purpose.

The last ten years has seen a marked increase in anti-corporate sentiment. Naomi Klein's book, No Logo takes aim at the human rights violations in the garment industry, Fast Food Nation and the McLibel trial have begun to expose the horrors of the fast food industry. Films like, Fahrenheit 911, Outfoxed, The Corporation, and Supersize Me, among other recent films are very critical of corporate abuses.

This article wants you to think that Ford and Volkswagen are the victims, but the fact is that they are only victims of their own greed. These kinds of ads have been gaining popularity because they sell product. There is a danger that the ads will fail and hurt the company's image. But there is less danger for large corporations with papers like the Observer running damage control and making it sound like objective news.

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