MHB WEEKLY: By the students, for the world

Commercial Controversy: Past & Future, Pt. 1 | March 14, 2011

In the 21st century landscape of advertising, in which enthusiasm for social media and cleverness in campaigning are essential tools for any respectable marketing endeavor, companies are more vulnerable than ever to controversy and criticism. Some promotional guffaws are more visible than others — Groupon’s offensive Tibet ad, which ran during the Super Bowl in February, is a recent and memorable example — while others, thanks to PR teams as quick-witted as ad agencies, are swept under the rug quickly and gracefully. This does not mean, however, that the smaller crimes of the consumer world should be entirely ignored.

Take, for instance, Chrysler’s Twitter scandal that caused the automaker to fire New Media Strategies, a leading web marketing firm, from handling its social media. On March 9th, an unnamed employee at New Media posted the following tweet under the ChryslerAutos handle, the official account of the company: “I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how f***ing drive.” The ensuing crisis communications campaign unfolded with considerable finesse: ChryslerAutos tweeted the apologetic message below within an hour, New Media Strategies fired the employee behind the profanity-laced post, and Chrysler issued a statement to explain that it does not “tolerate inappropriate language or behavior.”If nothing else, Chrysler’s Twitter nightmare exemplifies the difficulty in maintaining accountability and consistency across all the promotional avenues that a given company explores. In this case, the cursing message about Detroit was not only appropriate — it was also entirely at odds with Chrysler’s latest television campaign, which touts the return of the Motor City and champions its past and future. (Perhaps there’s irony in the commercial’s use of Eminem, a notoriously foul-mouthed rapper, as a mouthpiece, but that’s another discussion.)

Still, at times like these, it’s interesting and certainly informative to reflect on the early days of advertising, the very industry which has sold cigarettes, snake oil and everything in between in its long and checkered history. Continue reading for two comically abominable print ads which, by comparison, make Chrysler’s social media gaffe seem minuscule in its violation of political correctness.


Kenwood, “That’s What Wives Are For”
Run during the 1960s, this campaign reinforces gender stereotypes with is decidedly sexist tagline. It also manipulates the imagery of the antiquated family structure — the bread-winning husband and the dependent wife are as tied to the suburban American dream as white picket fences.

Cream of Wheat, “Rastus”
Cream of Wheat, one of the earliest processed food companies to dive into magazine advertising, ran the infamous “Rastus” campaign for the first time in 1921. Laughably offensive by today’s standards, the ad features the hallmarks of the Jim Crow stereotype: a smiling African American caricature, use of vernacular misspellings in the English language, and clear resignation of Rastus to a subservient, slave-like role. Aunt Jemima was another product mascot to reflect unfortunate Jim Crow racism. She still exists, but her modern makeover is much different from her original mammy image.

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    Established in 2009 at USC, the Master's of Science in Human Behavior is designed to equip students with knowledge of consumer psychology, social media and market analysis skills. This is our blog. Subscribe

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