BEST CURLY FRIES? MORE LIKE TWISTED LIES… AND OTHER ETHICAL ADVERTISING RANTS

Conscientious creativity and ethical advertising

I will never eat at Hardee’s. I KNOW they have the best curly fries, okay? I KNOW it. But I’d rather go hungry than give Hardee’s my money. That’s because a long time ago, Hardee’s joined the growing list of companies I won’t support because of dumb ads. Call it a hazard of the trade.

 

Now, sometimes I boycott businesses because our ideologies don’t jive — like how Subway mishandled the Jared Fogle fiasco, how American Apparel mishandled the Dov Charney fiasco and how Walmart mishandles everything. I could go on and on.

 

Other times, I don’t patronize certain businesses because their advertising is terrible, just terrible. And I’m not speaking from a place of moral outrage, but from a place of creative integrity.

 

About 10 years ago, as I was just hitting my stride as a copywriter, I started changing the channel whenever a Hardee’s commercial came on. Why? For the same reason I changed the channel whenever “Two and a Half Men” came on — the writing was lazy, and as a writer, that offends me! When you rely on stereotypes and clichés to sell a product, you have no business being in advertising — an industry that prides itself on originality.

 

I’m talking about the paper towel ads in which the trophy wife happily cleans up after her bumbling husband. The car ads in which beautiful young people gallivant around town with nary a hint of crippling student debt. The liquor ads in which manly men drink manly drinks and ignore their genetic predisposition to manly alcoholism. You know exactly which ads I’m talking about. They practically write themselves.

 

Uhhhhhggggg…boring!!!

 

I don’t think these companies are trying to be unoriginal, they’re just comfortable with how things are. Which begs the question: When it comes to marketing, should you represent what is? Or should you represent what could be?

 

If you continue with the status quo, you run the risk of alienating potential markets, losing out on revenue and becoming irrelevant. Conversely, if you diversify your marketing, you’re more likely to appeal to new audiences, increase profits and strengthen your brand’s reputation. Not only is it the right thing to do — it makes business sense.

 

I’m not saying you have to make a big deal about it — the last thing you want to do is pander. Barf. I’m just asking you to tweak the casting to reflect different types of families, use inclusive language to demonstrate how roles are changing, or just throw it all out the window and do something silly that appeals to everyone. These types of ads create buzz not only because they’re well done, but also because they’re rare.

 

Most companies don’t want to risk being different, which is a shame. If you sell your product by appealing to the lowest common denominator, you’ll never achieve the highest form of creativity. However, if you create thoughtfully and with purpose, you’ll produce iconic ads that are still relevant decades later.

 

As marketers, we have a powerful platform that can shape how our audiences think, feel and behave. As creatives, we can find a way to promote our clients and promote respect, diversity and inclusion. And to me, that’s even more satisfying than curly fries.

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