How brands can push boundaries without being offensive

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We chat to brand guru Donna Rachelson on how brands can push boundaries with ad campaigns without being irresponsible

This week two big brands, LEGiT and Appletiser, got it all wrong with their advertising campaigns.

And while both companies have apologised for their unfortunate campaigns, with one being labelled irresponsible and the other criticised for having elements of racial bias, the two brands can learn a lesson about how to create meaningful campaigns without losing what their brand stands for.

First in the firing line was LEGiT’s Don’t Judge campaign, which showed an image of a young woman posing next to a much older, wealthy-looking gentleman.

Consumers were enraged that a brand that is particularly favoured by young women appeared to be condoning the Sugar Daddy phenomenon, where young women engage in transactional sex with older men in exchange for money or gifts.

After being lambasted on social media for the campaign, the store, which is owned by retail group Edcon, apologised profusely and removed the offending image from its outlets.

“As a fashion brand, LEGiT continually aims to be topical, and always on trend. With regards to our ‘Don’t Judge’ advertising campaign, we created multiple photographs that feature topical conversations about fashion and social statements,” the store said in a statement.

“The photograph with the older gentleman and a young lady featured in some of our store windows was part of the ‘Don’t Judge’ campaign. While it was certainly not intended in view of the current societal challenges, we fully appreciate that the photograph could be viewed as promotion of a particular lifestyle. While we don’t judge, this was not our intention. We apologise for any unintended offence.

“We have removed the photograph from stores where it was displayed. In future we will endeavour to be more circumspect in terms of the images and messages used in our marketing collateral. LEGiT will always continue to stand for the empowerment of women and we fully support South African women’s right to express themselves. Thank you for engaging with us.”

A day after DESTINY reported on LEGiT’s off-the-mark campaign, Appletiser found itself in the firing line for an ad they posted on Twitter on 27 May. It features a black woman and a white blonde woman and is captioned: “Every brunette needs a blonde best friend”.

While the intention of the ad was to show the fun side of friendship, according to Appletiser Marketing Executive Andrea Shuttleworth, that was not the message that reached consumers.

Some of the consumers who were critical of the Appletiser ad, accused the brand of making it appear that black people needed white people in order to get approval from society, News24 reported. Appletiser later apologised for the campaign and said in future they would tread more carefully with regard to race-related issues.

What is important is what the brand stands for and what it wants to be known for

We chat to brand and marketing guru Donna Rachelson about the implications of such negative publicity on a brand and what could have led to such off-the-mark campaigns.

It is inevitable that most brands will upset consumers at some point, Rachelson says. However, if this is done in line with the brand’s core values, it is easy for the brand to defend the campaign.

But when brands put out ad campaigns that are not a representation of what they stand for, it is quite difficult for them to explain away such a mistake.

“What is important is what the brand stands for and what it wants to be known for. It is also important to know who your target market is, who the message is intended for and how to create a meaningful message for that market.”

Rachelson adds that while not all ad campaigns will receive a positive response, it is how the brand responds to the negative criticism that makes the difference.

“I understand that one of the brands deleted negative comments they received online – I mean that is criminal. Once you are going out with something and it starts an engagement and debates, you as a brand need to engage with that debate,” she says.

She adds that by doing this, the brand is able to explain the ad campaign and create dialogue around it.

© Donna Rachelson. All Rights Reserved.