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Lovely but is it also tacky?

The unexpected death of prince created a maelstrom of activity in the social spheres. Not surprisingly, a bunch of brands wanted to, ahem, pay their respects as well.

I definitely agree with Adfreak in that some fared better than others. Yes, to the Minnesota Viking’s (Prince’s home state) understated salute. Definitely no, to the props from Hamburger Helper. However sincere their words, the goofy Helping Hand logo makes it all insanely glib.

But the bigger question is should brands be doing this sort of thing at all? To the degree you feel advertisers can actually have “conversations” with consumers likely determines how you feel about them taking on social issues, being political, or, in this case, paying tribute to a dead person.

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An Unhelpful hand…

Part of the problem is that everything a brand says or does is, on a primary level, copy. For example, any words or pictures McDonald’s or Budweiser tweets out are, by definition, self-serving. Therefore, any attempts to “be real” must be met with skepticism.

However, as the examples in the above-linked article demonstrate, our ambivalence can at least be tempered by the use of inspired creativity or simple understatement. With few exceptions, I don’t think it’s ever eliminated. Clearly, this is infinitely harder to manage in painful circumstances (death, earthquakes, etc.) than joyful ones (winning a playoff game, birthdays, etc.) In tough times, it might be best to hold off altogether. As lovely as Jim Beam’s purple wax image is it’s still an ad. And what if, God forbid, it comes out that Prince overdosed on drugs or alcohol? That makes the connection to Jim Beam worse than awkward.

Still, if thousands upon thousands of people are willing to follow a consumer packaged goods account on Twitter or befriend a fast food restaurant on Facebook then I suppose the brands might as well give these people something other than coupons and contact information.

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A punch line on Comedy Central…

Over the years, I have been criticized –often justifiably- for being tone deaf to politically correct behavior. At times, I go to far with a “witty” observation. I don’t know when to stop a rant, diatribe or whatever best describes these sorts of things. I’m not pleading ignorance, necessarily; rather I just can’t stop playing with nasty, fun thoughts. If something is genuinely funny I have a hard time deeming it genuinely inappropriate. For me, going too far just means passing beyond the mainstream. Too soon means fresh. I could go on but you get the idea.

Regardless of your point of view, the ‘normal’ world is rapidly becoming more open-minded to bawdiness. Ungodly levels of it. Credit transparent yet anonymous social media as well as rampant competition for your entertainment dollars as two of the many reasons for the “ribaldification” of society.

So, are there lines we should never cross? Taboos? Not if you base your opinion on Comedy Central’s insanely over-the-top Roast of Justin Bieber.

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Race. Sex. Age. Politics. Religion. 9/11. Isis. No stone was left unturned in this 2-hour orgy of insults, hurled by a motley crew of rappers, ballers and comedians. Women were sluts and whores. Black men were pimps and gangsters. Latinos were gardeners and valets. The N-word was dropped dozens of times. As was “retard” and other slang even I won’t print. Said of guest, Martha Stewart: “She hasn’t been with so many black people since she was in prison.” Or that her “pussy was 50 shades of grey.” Behemoth ex-Laker, Shaquille O’Neal’s “dick is so big he uses it as a selfie-stick.”

I think these jokes are freaking hilarious. And so did plenty of you. Bieber’s roast, like all the CC Roasts, got tremendous ratings.

Given the immense popularity of such bacchanalia, I can’t help but wonder about political correctness in general. Is there a time and place for such things or is it hypocritical to think so? I get confused sometimes, which is why I’m called tone deaf. Yet, one cannot tell me that saying the “N-word” is okay here but never anywhere else. Or that anal rape jokes are fine directed at Justin Bieber but unacceptable toward anyone else.

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Justin Bieber. Portrait of a young man as douche bag…

The best argument for such ethics compartmentalization is that it’s fine if we have a choice in the matter. Therefore, racial and sexually demeaning jokes are okay on a cable TV show but not in the workplace.

Justify it all you want but this is a double standard.

And the more work and home converge the grayer this all becomes. For example, if I want to re-tell one of the above-mentioned Comedy Central jokes at work the next day does that mean I am crossing a line? Or worse yet make me a racist-misogynist? A short time ago I was asked by someone at work to take down a Facebook post I’d made regarding the riots in Ferguson, Missouri. Too sensitive a topic, I was told. People at work might be offended. Yet it was fair game on Comedy Central, a show these same people likely all watched. What gives?

Final note: Advertising tries desperately to ride the bleeding edge. But generally it is found chasing madly after it. Some of you may remember how Madison Avenue loved exploiting characters from SNL almost as fast as the show cranked them out. In terms of truly avant-garde, advertising is still bound by the typically conservative conventions of its many clients as well as antiquated ethics and suitability laws created for TV networks in the 20th century.


“Dead Giveaway” Auto Tune of Charles Ramsey

As horrifying details continue to unfold regarding Amanda Berry’s abduction by lowlife, Ariel Castro many of us are also laughing our asses off at the Auto Tune version of rescuer, Charles Ramsey’s now famous interview with a local reporter. For those unawares, Ramsey is the charismatic black man who helped rescue Amanda from the house where she and two other girls (now women) had been held captive, raped and abused for ten years. (PS: I mention Ramsey’s race because, well, he brings it up in one of his interview’s more entertaining moments.)

While the content Ramsey told the reporter was understandably dramatic, his accounting of it was also sensational ripe with provocative statements, great delivery and killer sound bites. The man is a natural. No one should be surprised to see him on Letterman or touting McDonald’s (a brand he name-drops numerous times during the interview). Straight up, the video is highly compelling. When converted to Auto Tune by nefarious online maestros it’s freaking hilarious. No way around it, the aptly titled song, Dead Giveaway created from interview footage is super entertaining. Frankly, I found it better arranged and cleverer than a fair amount of legitimate popular music. But that’s another story…

My wonderment is about creating content like this at all (much less being entertained by it) given the terrifying and extremely current circumstances. What are we to make of that? And it’s not just snarky young men finding amusement here. In my office even women were guffawing to the video. I would have thought rape and torture off limits for them.

So much for “too soon” even being a question. The parody song came out within 24 hours of the interview. I remember after 9/11 our nation required a fair amount of time before any sort of entertainment related to those events could be appreciated let alone made. Hell, comedy in general was put on hold for a period.

That was then. Online pranksters have multiplied like algae in the last 15 years. From the high-end producers (Funny or Die) to the entities making videos such as this one, it has become impossible to allow a grace period or time of mourning for anything at all. Assassinations. Terrorism. Rape. Suicide. Subject doesn’t matter and likely never will again. Competition for eyeballs is too fierce. If you don’t do the bit someone else will. And it will get shared and liked and followed until even your grandmother in Topeka has seen it.

That’s the world we live in. Have a nice day.