Connecting Social Media Standards

How far is too far

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Making the rounds in the advertising world is an interesting technique, termed viral marketing: making use of social software techniques learned from spammers, virus makers, and other experts of this nature. With viral marketing, rather than a formal ad campaign, with purchased space in newspapers and time on TV, you create ads or content that is notorious enough to generate a lot of Internet activity, seed them via email or through online groups, and just allow what comes naturally. The recent subservient chicken is based on viral marketing…and so is a new ‘ad campaign’ if you want to call it this, for Ford.

A few weeks ago, links to an online ad for a new car were sent out via email. The ad is part of an ‘evil twin’ concept: Ford is trying to market the car, the SportsKa, as the supposed evil twin of its popular Ka model.

The ad opens showing the car in a driveway, when a ginger cat starts walking past it. The sun roof pops open, and the cat, curious, jumps up on the car and sticks its head through the opening. At this point, the sun roof starts to close on the cat’s head. The cat struggles madly before its head is decapitated. Through the window you can see the head fall into the car, and the lifeless body falls down the windshield and off the car to the back.

I’ve been told that this is computer enhanced, and supposedly no cat was harmed in the making of this ad. I hope so. I sincerely hope so. Unfortunately, it was real enough when I first saw it to have upset me quite deeply. Warning people “not to click this if you like cats” cannot prepare you for this. Especially when you assume that a major car manufacturer like Ford has limits.

Evidentally, there are no limits.

After watching the ad, I started looking around for reactions. If the purpose of this viral marketing campaign was to generate notice in the car, one can say the ad has been successful. But whether it will earn the company customers is hard to say because reaction has been strongly divided.

A considerable number of people believe this ad to be humorous, and that those who are disturbed by it lack a sense of humor, and are taking it too literally. There’s this from a weblogger:

I haven’t had a free moment to blog lately, but this is just too good. You’ve gotta see this. This is MY kind of car commercial.

Surprise. UK’s Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty doesn’t like it.

By the way, have I ever told you? I love animals; they’re delicious.

However, appreciation is not universal, and Ford has said that the release of this ad was a ‘mistake’ – the one targeted for their viral marketing campaign featured a pigeon being killed, instead:

It was, they say, intended as a “viral marketing” tactic – designed to be sent via the internet from one individual to another – although this idea was subsequently rejected by Ford on taste grounds. A clip costing several thousand pounds and showing a pigeon being catapulted to its death by a bonnet springing open was approved and released last September. However, the rejected advertisement began circulating on the internet last week, at first because of an apparent mistake, and then spurred by black-humoured web users who passed it around.

…black-humoured web users who passed it around. I hesitated to participate in this little viral marketing exercise, except that this ad goes back to a conversation we had about censorship and Howard Stern. At that time, we asked: how far is too far?

According to an Australian ad agent:

“I reckon the line of acceptability has probably been pushed quite considerably by viral advertising because the whole point is to be notorious,” he says.

How far is too far. A month ago, I would have thought decapitating a cat to sell a car would have been too far.

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