The Situationist

Advertising By Pulling Advertising

Posted by Adam Benforado on January 28, 2011

In case you’ve been attending to important things and haven’t been keeping up on the latest MTV programing, the network has launched a new racy show, “Skins,” that depicts the wild alcohol/drug/sex-fueled world of high school — or, well, a high school (sadly, I went to a math equation/AP biology-fueled high school).

Like clockwork, various organizations like the Parents Television Council were enraged and called for protests, congressional investigations, and pitchfork rallies outside of ominous castles.

And, as these things inevitably go, a number of companies pulled their advertising from the show.

As a representative of Taco Bell explained to the Hollywood Reporter, “We’ve decided that the show is not a fit for our brand and have moved our advertising to other MTV programming.”

So what do we make of this . . . or, indeed, any instance where a company publicly drops a show or celebrity spokesman when controversy strikes?

Is it all downside?  That is certainly the story that gets told: we invested so much into the campaign centered around O.J. and then he had to go out and . . . !

But perhaps it’s not as bad as it would seem for corporate America.  In fact, perhaps these controversial “break-ups” present ripe opportunities for establishing a brand or company identity.

Accenture was the first sponsor to drop Tiger Woods as its representative after revelations of his sexual escapades were made public.

The drama that was portrayed in the media was one of a company done wrong, but I wonder about that narrative.

After all, Accenture benefited for years with Tiger coming to personify the accuracy and integrity of the firm.  When Tiger slipped up, the company swiftly acted to sever its relationship, with the implicit message that (1) Tiger did not live up to the high expectations of the company and (2) the company was so dedicated to accuracy and integrity that it would send its heavyweight spokesman packing for personal indiscretions.  The real upside, of course, was that the breakup was quite public with numerous “news” stories about the relationship gone bad.  People who knew nothing about consulting suddenly knew the name Accenture and what the company stood for.

As the song goes, breaking up is hard to do . . . but for many companies there may be some real upside from a public split.

And, in the case of a show like “Skins” — it’s a win-win.  MTV draws in viewers who are suddenly intrigued by talk of a show that’s so over-the-top and scandalous that Taco Bell ran the other direction and Taco Bell gets to establish that while it’s still hip and spicy (it’s not pulling its advertising from MTV completely), at heart it’s a “family-oriented” business.

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One Response to “Advertising By Pulling Advertising”

  1. [...] Advertising By Pulling Advertising « The Situationist [...]

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