July 8, 2012

American Workers Broken and Angry… The Perfect Advertising Opportunity!

Chris Johnston, who heads United States tea brands at Coca-Cola North America, said the images were meant to have some fun and offer relief to workers. “We know people are stressed out right now, and we like to think of Gold Peak Tea as the perfect antidote,” Mr. Johnston said.

Geoff McCartney, vice president and creative director at DDB Chicago, the agency that worked on the [McDonalds] campaign, said the ads were based on a simple precept: “that busy people should take some time for a decent lunch. …Work-life balance is really at a tipping point,” he said. “People don’t have a break for lunch, and they feel like they can’t take one for whatever reason.” –from: In Ads, the Workers Rise Up … and Go to Lunch (NYT)

So, the hot trend in corporate advertising is to channel/harness/capture/repurpose the “stress” and “sense of rebellion” American workers are feeling today … for whatever reason?? Credit this story in the NYT Business section for at least including a quote (from the dean of the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations) for actually referring to the current crops of ads as “manipulative.”

At the same time, however, the trade-friendly article understandably avoids dealing with the depth of the distress or the morality of exploiting America’s workers, focusing instead on the tactics of that exploitation, including humor, self-affirmation and encouragement of small acts of acting out (the results designed to go straight to the corporate bottom line). What can really leave you bloodless is the extent to which not just worker anguish and exploitation, but the backlash itself becomes raw material for the advertising industry. This mindset is evident in the cutesy title of the article (“In Ads, the Workers Rise Up … and Go to Lunch”) as well as the caption accompanying this photo promoting Las Vegas as the place to go after daring to finally cash in your unused vacation days, It reads:

Experts say some companies are tapping the spirit of Occupy Wall Street in ads.

Just like tapping the Rockies, right? Regarding the screen grab above from the Gold Peak Tea campaign, I’m not sure what’s more appalling: the fact the Coke subsidiary is offering $100k to buy some poor worker a year off (God knows if they get their job back) or the photos of these workers in pure agony that are used to “promote” the campaign. Looking at that woman having a breakdown, her head pressed into a file cabinet, I’m sure Coke and their ad agency would call it empathizing. I call it sadism.

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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