Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Bold, provocative and controversial, but going too far?

Sportswear brand Skins has been renowned for its unique and often controversial advertising in the past few years, but recently the brand suffered a massive setback, igniting a question about just how far should marketing push beyond its boundaries?

Last week the Advertising Federation of Australia (AFA) took back its illustrious gold pinnacle award that it gave to Skins’ creative agency The Furnace in 2007. Why? Well as you can read here the award recognized The Furnace’s work for Skins and honored a particular campaign for the compression garments manufacturer which stated that Skins doesn’t pay sports stars to wear their products, sports stars pay Skins for them.

This is the ad:

But last year the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) brought a court action against Skins when it was revealed that the brand actually did pay sports stars to wear its products. Oops.

Last week the ACCC unsurprisingly finally found Skins guilty of false and misleading advertising, and the AFA asked for its award – Australia’s equivalent of a gold Effie – back.

Skins and The Furnace have been doing campaigns that push the limit for quite a while. Here’s another of their efforts.

These ads have been very successful in that they have driven huge sales of Skins' products and put the brand on the world stage.

Now I personally feel there’s nothing wrong with controversial advertising, if it has a point or message behind it. It’s so hard to get cut-through these days and to actually get the attention of consumers, so advertising must be unique and different to have an impact. But there’s also a very fine line that once you cross, you’re in trouble. Making unsubstantiated claims about a brand, like the first Skins ad above, is a no-no.

But the second ad above, shot in LA and featuring a series of African-Americans, is in my opinion, OK, and has an actual message for the viewer. It's not controversial for the sake of being controversial. Sure it’s provocative, but it doesn’t go too far. However, the ad ran into trouble in the UK and US for being deemed as 'racist'.

What do you think? Has Skins gone too far in these ads? Should advertising be controversial?

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