The Weatherproof Garment Company's Obama stunt is stupid and shameful, and it's an example of why nobody trusts advertising anymore. The fact that the ad industry doesn't come out against this sort of nonsense is proof that it has lost its way.

Weatherproof bought an AP photo of the President wearing one of his coats while touring China's Great Wall and plastered its tagline "A Leader in Style" to create the billboard it put up in New York's Times Square. "We're not saying President Obama endorses Weatherproof apparel," explained the company's CEO.

Liar.

That's the whole point of the ad, period, just like stating and/or implying things is the purpose of any communication. While pundits debate whether it's within the realm of protected speech (the ad was declined by major print media because it might violate federal and/or state prohibitions) or the propriety of using the President's image in an ad, I'm shocked that more people in the ad industry aren't calling out the practice itself.

The stunt is stupid because it tells consumers bad things about Weatherproof:

  • It has nothing more meaningful or relevant to put in its ads
  • It is willing to twist the truth (at best) with an implied endorsement
  • Featuring Obama as a fashion model begs the viewer to disbelieve it

It's simply bad advertising. Public figures wear branded products all the time, yet most businesses have adults working in their marketing departments who might riff on some evil promotional angle but then never act upon it. Weatherproof is without such a moral let alone intelligent compass, and I've had numerous Dim Bulbers write to tell me they won't buy the coats anymore because of this bad judgment.

The stunt is shameful because it elevates form over substance.

The Irish author Brendan Behan supposedly coined the phrase "there's no such thing as bad publicity," and it's still accepted wisdom in ad circles that the ultimate challenge for brands is to gain exposure and awareness. Celebrities have done it forever, and the kabuki drama goes something like this:

  • Do something (get a tattoo, run a shameful ad) that shocks people into reacting
  • Let the media echo chamber applaud and/or complain
  • Eventually apologize or otherwise explain it, and move onto the next stunt

Much of what gets celebrated in the paid commercial speech via digital or viral realms is just an extension of this ancient approach; we see it when Burger King videotapes peasants tasting their first hamburgers, or Ford encourages twentysomethings to create blog posts contemplating their own navels instead of promoting its new cars. 

What was good enough to break through the clutter last year becomes background noise the next time around, so this philosophy encourages companies to produce ever-more shocking advertising. Its proponents talk about communications that say less only more loudly as if it is a good thing.

Talk about a medium and industry with a death wish.

The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) is silent on this issue. The American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA) has nothing to say. Maybe the ad industry is so shocked by the decline in its stature and profitability that it can't see what’s happening. So Weatherproof broke no industry standards. There's no expert outcry that stunts for stunts' sake hurt not just the offender, but tarnish every advertiser and the medium itself. No expectation whatsoever that this year will yet bring us bolder, less sincere efforts from some of the industry's elite.

No wonder people don't believe the crap that gets put into ads anymore, whether on billboards or through social media campaigns. You'd think that if a company paid for the privilege of saying something to consumers that it would say something that mattered.

I'm sure there’s a PR numbnut or agency schmoozer tracking all the media coverage on the Obama billboard stunt. Marketing dashboard VU meters tracking chatroom buzzwords will flip, and there's some running calculation on the "value" of Weatherproof name mentions in print or on screens. There'll be many meetings in other corporate offices that get started with a CMO saying to the team "why aren't we doing something like this?"

Only they'll neglect to heed the rest of Behan's quote, which added that the only bad publicity is "your own obituary." 

Weatherproof is well along in writing the obit for its brand, and our collective silence on the continuing crapification of the ad medium is the rough copy describing our own professional demise.

Image source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lmkemper/2338980642/

Original Post: http://dimbulb.typepad.com/my_weblog/2010/01/weatherproof-stupid-shameful.html

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