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Avoidable advertising gaffe

An advertisement that appears to denigrate the memory of Datu Lapu-Lapu, the nemesis of Ferdinand Magellan (the man who discovered the Philippines for the western world) had a sad ending. The commercial shows Lapu-Lapu and his consort choosing a diaper named EQ for their child over that offered by Magellan. The rejection was implied as the cause of fighting between their forces in the Battle of Mactan.

Understandably, many Cebuanos took umbrage over what they considered the advertisement’s disrespect for the dignity and heroism of the first Filipino hero. Acting on their complaint, the National Historical Commission issued last April 13 a “cease and desist” order against the promotional material.

This prompted the Advertising Standards Council, the industry’s body tasked with screening and regulating the content of advertising materials across all medium, to recall the “clearance to air” it earlier issued to the advertisement. With that directive, the Advertising Board of the Philippines, the umbrella organization of the advertising industry, ordered the TV commercial to be taken off the air.

The order now rests on the hands of McCann World Group (the advertisement’s producer), the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster sa Pilipinas and the TV stations where the commercial has been booked.

Correlation

It’s surprising how McCann, which is internationally known for the quality and novelty of its promotional materials, would make an advertisement that makes fun of a revered figure and significant event in our history. I felt uncomfortable the first time I saw the commercial. Although the setting and props were excellent, the presentation of characters struck me as choppy and disconcerted.

It’s difficult to find any correlation—no matter how stretched—between Lapu-Lapu and Magellan, on the one hand, and baby diapers, on the other. They just don’t fit. If the dialogue between the actors was meant to be humorous or become a popular sound bite, the opposite happened. It was dragging.

I know there is such a thing as generation gap that explains why some present-day activities or messages do not appeal to or strike a chord among members of a generation. In the instant advertisement, the disconnect between the product and the manner of its promotion cannot be brushed off as the result of a difference in generational attitudes or ideas. Some things were just not in their right places.

Was I missing something? Or have I been jaded already by other advertisements that the EQ diaper commercial did not seem to convey the message it apparently wants to send to the market?

Market test

If I’m not mistaken, advertisements, especially those for radio and TV, are pre-tested with their intended audience before their release. Although the people behind advertisements are supposed to have their feet and ears on the ground, the reaction of the people to whose attention the commercials are directed has to be gauged in advance to ensure the effectiveness of the promotion. After all, what good are beautifully conceived and prepared advertisements if their target audience does not respond to them favorably, i.e., buy or avail themselves of their underlying products or services.

Aside from the early measurement of public reaction, aren’t commercials also supposed to undergo factual, gender, political, social and other related testing? Are the facts and figures mentioned accurate or supported by credible proof? Does the advertisement send a subliminal sexist, racist or ageist message, or otherwise denigrate other people? Are the words and photos used offensive, demeaning or insulting to some sectors of our society?

Standing alone, some words may appear plain and simple, but used in a certain style or form they may hurt other people’s sensibilities. Remember the “Nakatikim ka na ba ng kinse años?” advertisement of Napoleon Brandy in 2004? Although its advertiser claimed the “15 years” referred to the age of the liquor, not to minor children, the double entendre drew strong adverse reaction from the public and forced the advertiser to pull out the commercial.

Strong reaction

How could the company not know that its presentation of Lapu-Lapu was politically incorrect or would draw umbrage from Cebuanos who, in terms of the number of people who speak the dialect, are the biggest in the country? The commercial was an unflattering satire of an historical event that Cebuanos take fulsome pride of because of its exalted standing in our history. The Battle of Mactan, considered the first Filipino resistance to foreign invasion, was trivialized as having been fought over baby diapers. Mercifully, its contents were not highlighted.

The advertising company’s research department seemed to have missed the fact that the Cebuanos are, like other regional groupings, fiercely loyal to their birthplace, history and culture that they would not brook condescending portrayals of the things they hold dear. The EQ advertisement incident should put advertisers and advertisement companies on notice on the need to be more circumspect in the preparation of promotional materials.

How frustrating must it be for a company to incur huge expenses for an advertisement that tarnishes, rather than enhances, its image and, in the process, lose the patronage of its target market.

For comments, please send your email to rpalabrica@inquirer.com.ph.


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