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How Not to Promote Soda: Jones' "Golliwog" Ad

How not to promote soda: Create the most racist ad you can think of -- featuring a golliwog, a coolie and a turban-wearing terrorist -- and then insist that it's the audience who doesn't appreciate the joke. That was the astonishing strategy behind a Jones Soda Co. ad by ad agency DDB that the company's CEO has just been forced to apologize for (click to enlarge).

The ad was created for Jones Soda's New Zealand distributor, Foodtrenz, which was to launch the brand Down Under. The ad -- which also inexplicably depicted a gnome and a BDSM gimp -- said:

Before you complain, this advertisement has been APPROVED by five lawyers, a child psychologist, a team of multicultural experts, a disability representative, and a safety regulations specialist.
... It's time to call a spade a spade and get back to being real. ... at Jones Soda we don't really care what anyone else thinks. With eight deliciously inorganic flavours, colours that could only have come from a laboratory and bucket loads of sugar, we're putting the un back into pc.
CEO William Meissner responded with an apology the same day Jezebel broke the story. He painted a tale of bureaucratic mismanagement:
From what we understand at this point, the ad was commissioned by a New Zealand-based food brand distributor that was preparing to distribute our product through another company, but that has no direct ties with Jones Soda Co. In preparation to begin distributing Jones Soda in New Zealand, they reportedly hired the New Zealand advertising agency, DDB New Zealand, to create a launch campaign. This was done without the consent, approval or knowledge of Jones Soda Co., and was completely unauthorized.
Had we known about this ad, be assured it would never have seen the light of day.
Fair enough. But surely the launch of your entire brand portfolio in a new country -- even one as small as New Zealand -- should have received more corporate oversight?

This isn't a trivial point. In the last couple of years, small foreign markets have been used as testing grounds for controversial ad campaigns with often disastrous results. It was BBH's Brazil branch that forced its client, the Mentos company, to apologize for an ad that insulted fat people and DDB's office in the same country that created an offensive Sept. 11-themed ad for the World Wildlife Fund.

HQ's ought to pay attention to the output of their foreign outposts even if only to stop them from using Hitler or Sept. 11 in their ads, which are both fully developed ad memes outside the U.S.


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