For the record, the karate studio now says they didn’t approve the ad the agency came up with and so they didn’t distribute it as official advertising. Normally we don’t post ads of this sort — proposed ones that the company ultimately rejected, or that the advertising company created simply as an example for their portfolio — but I thought this one was worth looking at. I just want to be clear that the RDCA karate studio does not appear to have actually used these ads to advertise itself (I don’t know if they intended to and changed their mind after the reaction, or never planned on using them regardless).
I’ll get back to that in a minute, but let’s return to the gender policing issue first.
As the Copyranter and Daily Wh.at post titles and commentary indicate, the way most people are taking this is that the ads are saying, “Oh, shit, your son is acting gay! Get him into karate and we’ll cure that little problem for you!” However, I think there’s another interpretation, the one that I first thought of, more along the lines of, “Oh, shit, your son is acting gay. He’s gonna get beat up a lot. Better get him some karate lessons.”
Either way, the ads rely on gender policing of masculinity and laugh at boys who cross gender boundaries. They illustrate how men and boys often face more stringent gender policing than women and girls do: it’s harder to imagine an ad that showed a girl, say, playing with a G.I. Joe doll or a toy truck being used in an ad to imply parents need to take immediate action of some sort because a crisis is brewing. A girl playing with boy toys is generally acceptable, if not neat; a boy playing with girls’ toys (or engaging in activities associated with girls, as in this case) is automatically problematic or worthy of notice. It’s just that the second interpretation I propose would be less about saying karate will fix your weirdo cross-dressing son than that if you have a weirdo cross-dressing son, at least karate will help him protect himself from what’s sure to follow. In both cases, finding your son in mom’s shoes is totally disturbing; the difference is in whether the ad presents this behavior (and the implication of gayness that comes with boys’ gender non-conformity) as something that can be “fixed,” or as something a parent must reluctantly accept and then figure out how to manage.
Now…getting back to the ads themselves. If you’re interested in my discussion of these sort of murky unofficial/unreleased ad campaigns, it’s after the jump…
The whole topic of spec ads, fake ads, and other varieties of what seem to be legitimate ads but fall into various categories of non-officialness is fascinating to me. We get a lot of submissions that we decide not to post because we don’t have any evidence that they ever actually ran as part of an ad campaign. This can be for a variety of reasons. A company obviously rejects some of the potential ads a marketing agency designs; images of the ad might still get out unintentionally, or the agency may put the ad in its official portfolio as an example to show other clients. A lot of times when you see a commercial on YouTube that says it was “banned in Germany” or whatever, it’s not that it was banned by the government, it’s that the company decided not to use it, which doesn’t really seem like “banning,” really.
And then there is the whole category of completely fake ads created by either agencies or individuals. Sometimes, from what I can tell, ad agencies design theoretical ads about a product or topic without any contact with an actual potential client, but as a product to submit to ad competitions and such, for prestige, without any intention of them ever actually being displayed in public. And of course people can create fake ads or commercials on their home computers (see the third image in this post).
There isn’t much companies can do about a lot of this. If someone creates a totally fake ad about, say, Pepsi on their home computer and puts it on the internet, and it gets distributed all over the place, it’s going to be pretty hard to get them all removed. The company may not like the content, either because they don’t like the brand infringement or they find the message/content inappropriate or likely to offend customers, but once it’s out there, a company has a hard time countering the message. A lot of people won’t know that it wasn’t official, and the company will be in reactive mode, trying to do damage control about something they didn’t create (and, in the case of rejected ad agency products, actively decided not to use to market products). In this case, RDCA, the company listed in these proposed ads, is now all over the internet as a company that uses homophobic ads, while the karate studio says they didn’t use them at all. Whether or not the karate studio knew anything about their creation or ever intended to use them is irrelevant at this point; they’re getting negative reactions regardless.
It reminds me of Rob Walker’s discussion of “murketing,” that is, the way marketing is increasingly difficult to distinguish from what people might think of as the “authentic” product (say, the difference between a TV show and the commercials that play during it). Companies often use this to their advantage; for instance, product placement blends the TV show or movie with marketing, and some companies create what appear to be homemade videos. But in this case, the difficulty of distinguishing “official” marketing from other elements of pop culture (say, a video someone makes at home featuring an established product because they think it’ll be funny) works against corporations, reducing their control over their brands’ image and the messages associated with them.