In this installment of MarketSmiths’ Badvertising we look at what happens when you exploit one tragedy in order to draw attention to another one. As usual, DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME!
The World Wildlife Fund’s 9/11 Major Fail
Warm and fuzzy thoughts about endangered animals. A mission to save the planet. Cute little panda logo. That’s the World Wildlife Fund, right?
What probably doesn’t come to mind with the WWF is death and destruction and crassness–that is, unless you caught this ad from 2009. In an attempt to draw attention to the devastation caused by the East Asian Tsunami, the WWF recreated the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center (and just in time for the 8th anniversary, too).
See the ad below? See what looks like hundreds of jets about to explode on New York City? That’s not very warm and fuzzy. WTF, WWF? The ad was picked up by The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times and The Daily News, and once social media got a hold of it, there was an explosion, all right—one of righteous anger and moral outrage. The WWF was vilified and scandalized and called horrible names. They naturally went into all-out spin mode, calling the ad a major embarrassment that “should never have been made.”
The WWF later stated that the ad was created “on spec” by a Brazilian ad agency (DDB Brazil) for an ad competition, and that it was never-ever-never pinky-swear approved by them. “We are just utterly appalled,” said WWF spokeswoman Leslie Aun. “This ad is not something that anyone in our organization would ever have signed off on.”
Yeah, it seems totally out of place for them but, then, it turns out that statement was a fib.
Ad Age reported that the ad was presented to the WWF in Brazil in December 2008 and was approved. Oops. It even won a merit award from The One Club, a nonprofit that promotes “excellence in advertising.” Doh!
To make matters worse, they also produced a video version of the ad—whoever “they” are, for the spot was apparently created by magic as neither the ad agency, nor the WWF, claimed responsibility for it. No surprise there. Like the print version, the ad was quickly pulled and probably thrown into an active volcano. Ah, but the Internet never forgets.
Sometimes advertising needs to shock, to surprise, to overwhelm, in order to grab attention. But where is the line? The copy in the ad reads: “The tsunami killed 100 times more people than 9/11. The planet is brutally powerful. Respect it. Preserve it.”
Ironically, respect was the one thing the ad was missing, and trying to draw attention to one tragedy by exploiting another one is not only disrespectful, it’s idiotic and self-defeating. I don’t know about you, but when I think about the WWF these days I have a tiny impulse to fly a jet into a panda.