Mark Irving: When advertising goes wrong, it goes very wrong.

The re-enactment of a WWII dogfight above Mission Bay. Organised by TVNZ to advertise the launch of the programme The Pacific. Photo / Natalie Slade
The re-enactment of a WWII dogfight above Mission Bay. Organised by TVNZ to advertise the launch of the programme The Pacific. Photo / Natalie Slade

Mark Irving, advertising company director on the times advertising goes wrong.

In the sometimes mad, mad, rush, rush, too busy to talk work places many of us inhabit, sometimes attention to detail and good old-fashioned common sense can sadly go missing in action. In the world of advertising, there are many examples where this has been the case.

Many years ago there was a New Zealand beer commercial, featuring two lovable European lads who jumped off a bridge into the path of an oncoming truck. Only problem was, the particular ad agency ran this ad during the Fight for life charity boxing event in aid of youth suicide. Probably not the best media placement you could buy for your client.

In the early 90s there was the notorious case where the staff of a smallish newspaper didn't do their proofing as well as they should. Instead of having the perfectly acceptable "Coconut cream" in the headline, they made one crucial error.

The first syllable was correct, however the second syllable started with a "c" and rhymed with "hunt." Ironically, this did wonders for sales, partly due to the resulting publicity.

Many years ago I worked for a newspaper and on more than one occasion bored compositors (those who put the ads together) would purposely test the proofreaders' attention to detail. One headline I remember that slipped past the keeper was a real estate ad.

Instead of including the caption "duck pond" placed underneath the picture, they substituted the "d" for an "f." While this type of pond may have appealed to certain sections of the community, for the majority, the original purpose was the preferred option.

Needless to say, the real estate company was not amused. In a similar incident, also in the real estate section, a "wrap around deck" became a "wrap around dick." Compositors 2. Proofreaders nil.

Problems can also arise when advertising and PR strategies are not properly thought out or the cynicism and media savvy of the general public is underestimated. I was living in Australia at the time the Baz Luhrman film Australia, staring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman was promoted and released. It was a PR and advertising blitz on a huge scale.

For the six months prior to the release, it seemed an ad or an article appeared every third day where Baz was talking about his upcoming epic. By the time the film came around, the Aussie public had worked out the general story line and become pretty tired of the whole promotion. They stayed away in big numbers.

There is a fine line between heavily promoting something and over promoting. If the line is crossed, the results can be disastrous. Many commentators believed it was also an ambitious and rather unusual choice of name. I've never written or named a film but I have had to name a variety of products from drinks to real estate developments.

Getting the name right involves much thought and time. To me, the name Australia just didn't seem right. Closer to home, the series Pacific didn't go as well as was hoped. Was this due to over promotion or maybe the New Zealand public have had enough of World War Two epics? Timing is everything as they say.

So let's raise our glasses to careful proofreading, a bit of common sense and never underestimating the consumer's tolerance for badly thought out advertising strategies.


Mark Irving is the Director of Range Advertising and Communications.

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