In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne is made to don the letter ‘A’ in the colour scarlet, indicating she is shamed for being an adulterer. Well, if marketers of the twenty-first century aren’t careful, they will soon be made to do the same….exchange their stripes for coats or blazers with the letter ‘M’ emblazoned in the colour scarlet. And when that happens, the tables would truly have been turned on them. Because the Scarlet Letter does not rock, though many a marketer may believe so!
I owe the comfortable life I have more or less led to the disciplines of advertising and marketing. So much so, I feel like an ingrate saying, ‘Marketers Wear The Scarlet Letter’. Viewed another way though, it could be argued that it is precisely because of my love for the two disciplines that I am, today, chaffing at the bits at what I am increasingly witnessing. I must qualify here that I am primarily speaking of the marketing scene in India.
So, what is it that has got me so worked up about Marketing?
Very simply, I am appalled at the lack of ethics in many an advertisement. It seems that the advertising profession believes that the best way to get consumers to buy a brand is to shame them into it. Apparently, this is a worldwide trend. Here’s what Andri Antoniades has to say in Ads Gone Bad: The Worst Body-Shaming Advertisements, dated September 6, 2013, “Shaming people in general about their physical appearance is now easily visible in campaigns ranging from pro-vegan advertisements to billboards encouraging childhood health.”
Shaming consumers has long been practised by Indian marketers and their advertising agencies as well. Here’s an example. In this television ad for Krack Heel Repair Cream, consumers are advised that their social recognition lies in crack-free heels. Really?
For God’s Sake. If marketing and advertising people take so much pride in the fact that ads influence social thinking, may I ask if they believe that the best world is one where nothing matters but how a person looks? Now, I have nothing against good looking people. All I am saying is that do we need to shame people who are not naturally blessed that way? And get them to spend money on products that they may not be able to afford and don’t even really need? There’s that. And then, there’s the question of “Aren’t they any positive ways of reinforcing your product’s benefits?” For example, cracked heels cause pain. Hello, anyone thought of selling heel repair cream as relief from pain and discomfort?
The bigger crime is when marketers and advertisers target children to influence parental purchase decisions. It’s something I protested about in an earlier blog Is Your Brand Position a Mirage? If you read that, I am sure you will be as appalled as I at the blatant encouragement of children currying favour with fathers. Just to get dads to subscribe to a telecom brand’s family plan! I am talking about Airtel’s myPlan for Family. True, the ad does not use the technique of shaming but I am citing it here as an example of shameful marketing.
Shaming, it appears, is all the rage. Well, yesterday, the tables got turned on Marketers who deployed a technique called newsjacking, displaying gross insensitivity. Here are a few examples. Online fashion retailer American Swan announced an “Earth shattering offer”; LensKart sent SMSs that read “Shake it off like this earthquake”; and Troika Consulting actually had the nerve to advertise that they would hire people for their social media team if they had updated their status while evacuating the building during the quake.
Thankfully, social media lambasted the distasteful ads and currently at least one set of marketers are wearing the scarlet letter. You can read more about it in article links I have provided at the tail end of this post.
Author’s Note: I would like to unequivocally apologise to Quinn Dombrowski for the statement that the Scarlet Letter does not rock. Especially since I have featured his image in this post. I am sure his intentions were different when he created the poster. Personally, I interpreted it as “Do not be shamed by society. Wear the Scarlet Letter given to you proudly.”
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Featured Image Credit: the Scarlet Letter Rocks by Quinn Dombrowski (Flickr.com CC BY-SA 2.0)
Andri Antoniades. Ads Gone Bad: The Worst Body-Shaming Advertisements. September 6, 2013. Takepart website.
Varuni Khosla. Companies such as LensKart, American Swan & Troika Consultants draw social media flak for using quake ads. The Economic Times. April 27, 2015.
Social Samosa. Being socially insensitive – Lenskart, Troika Consulting and ScoopWhoop. April 25, 2015.