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Stop Trying to Make ‘Fetch’ Happen: Why is Adland Turning Into ‘Mean Girls’?


LBB's Laura Swinton on Cadillac v. Ford, Taco Bell v. McDonald's and the sudden glut of bitchy brands

Stop Trying to Make ‘Fetch’ Happen: Why is Adland Turning Into ‘Mean Girls’?

Over at LBB HQ we’re still reeling from the news that the makers of Mean Girls have categorically ruled out a sequel. The film’s writer Tina Fey just ain’t having it. Her reasoning was “we’re all past high-school age”. It’s a good point, but Adland seems to have missed the memo.  While Fey and the crew have left the cliques and catfights behind, the advertising industry is bitchier than ever. The last week or so has seen more snarky bad-mouthing from brands than a Sixth Form Common Room. 

I’m not talking about the day-to-day adland gossip, the bitching and sniping that keeps the industry ticking over. Negative advertising is everywhere at the moment, with brands getting their perfectly manicured claws out to take down their competitors. In response to Cadillac’s ravenously right wing, capitalist interpretation of the American Dream, Ford hit back with a pointed shot-for-shot remake that suggested that perhaps that ‘Dream’ is about more than just money. Taco Bell took on Maccy D’s when they recruited real life Ronald McDonalds to advertise their new breakfast menus. Even Chicago Town has smacked down the Queen Bee of the pizza posse, Domino’s, by sending out thousands of packs of ‘real dominoes’. 

And it's not just the brands that are filling their boots with high school drama. For April Fools’, Saatchi Thailand announced an app that lets clients ditch every agency in the world with barbed ‘you’re fired’ emails. And in the world of ad industry press, eyebrows/chuckles/gasps (depending on who you talk to) have been raised by The Drum’s April Fool stunt – Advertising Week Europe attendees were treated to the site of a wrecked cab labelled ‘Campain’ and ‘Marketing Weak’ being hauled around by a tow-truck branded ‘The Drum Recovery’.

So what’s behind the recent spate of spite? It feels incongruent with the pockets of positivity that have been springing up over the past few months. People are busier than they were this time last year and there’s a sense of relief that just maybe we’re beginning to put the economic meltdown of the past few years behind us. Perhaps the sarcastic strategies are a sign of renewed confidence – after all one shouldn’t really throw rocks at other people’s glasshouses. Unless your own glasshouse is kitted out with the very latest reinforced glazing technology. 

Or perhaps the answer is more prosaic – someone else did it first. Samsung have been the trail-blazing trash-talkers with their ongoing campaign to take down Apple with a drip-feed of antagonistic ads. It’s a strategy that’s served them well over the past few years, and this year they also aimed their crosshairs at Kindle and Microsoft. It worked because they got the tone right – playful, knowing and passive aggressive instead of a full-frontal assault. More ‘Clueless’ than, say, ‘Heathers’. And because it worked for Samsung, other brands are happy to follow suit. Some days I can be quite ambivalent as the phrase ‘the creative industries’ as a synonym for advertising – waiting for someone else to do it first ain’t exactly pioneering. 

When done right it’s funny – and there have been a few giggles in the office this week. And when brands engage with each other it shows they’re aware and listening. On the other hand, when the net result is lots of brands talking to brands about each other’s advertising it’s enough to prompt me into one of my ‘advertising echo chamber’ rants.

The question is how should brands response when they’ve been burned by a rival? Dignified silence? Or should they get down and dirty (pro tip: go for the eyes… or the hair)? For my money, there can only be one strategy. Go for the classic high school response:

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LBB Editorial, Wed, 02 Apr 2014 16:03:45 GMT