Tag Archives: ASB

Foxes, grubs and other dirty words

What’s going through the ASB doesn’t normally get my attention too much (unless it’s because of their stuffed-shirt insistence on using the word “advertisement”, which I hate, or it’s because I’m the one in their sights).  One particular case did though, because I drove underneath it pretty much every day and I was sure that it’d make it to the big table in the ASB’s complaints room.

I’m referring to Fernwood Fitness Centres (you know, those gyms that’ve reversed sexual discrimination and don’t let blokes in, which is actually a fantastic innovation and great target marketing) and their use of the word ‘fox’ in their most recent ad campaign.  The complaints were dismissed.  I reckon they were fortunate to get off.  The ASB’s mood of the day must’ve been with them.  You can download the determination and the reasons why here.

A not insignificant part of the campaign was an outdoor billboard with the simple, giant headline “Join For Fox Sake” and this was my first exposure to the campaign as I drove under it (and second, third and subsequently many more).

When my kids saw it the first time, they read it out loud and giggled.  Every other time they saw it they giggled again.  They got the vibe.  I think that’s a fairly revealing fact about the intended reaction to the creative.  Funny thing though, they couldn’t tell you who the company was, even after many trips and giggling fits under that billboard.

Because I’m in the game of marketing & communications, people often ask me if I think an ad is any good.  I usually answer those questions with other questions (because I might think it’s good, but if I’m not the desired audience….).  In this case, to the standard “what do you think” question, most of the responses weren’t particularly positive.  More than a few thought it was a bit too crude and suggestive especially to be hanging over a main road, adjacent to a school.  Several likened it to the long-running “Do It Longer” ads.

As an aside, on that I disagree and refuse to draw any comparison between this campaign by Fernwood and the controversy-courting trash out of the Advanced Medical Institute.  The AMI are little more than charlatans, enticing great wads of cash out of vulnerable gents who may actually have serious medical & emotional problems that should be discussed with a real doctor.  Their campaigns are designed to get every man and his dog talking about it, either way, in the hope that the brand sticks.  Negative publicity isn’t always good publicity though (but that’s another topic).  In contrast, I reckon Fernwood offers real value to its consumers and in that sense, the distinctions couldn’t be clearer.

A summary of the arguments Fernwood gave in their response to complaints include that the ‘fox’ word was used in other contexts as part of a broader campaign, was clearly written and that print media only and not audio was used because “confusion could arise” when hearing the line spoken.  Personally I don’t think there’d have been any confusion at all…..

“Join” was the first campaign line I saw, on the aforementioned billboard.  That was replaced a couple of months later with another one (I can’t recall which).  In their response, Fernwood don’t detail whether their other lines were concurrent in different media.  Because I’m not the desired audiences I didn’t see the other lines, which included “My Mum’s A Fox” and “Unlock Your Inner Fox”.  Those are good, strong campaign lines and here’s my point.

“Join for fox sake” is a grubby innuendo in the context it ran.  Using double-meanings to boost cut-through and recall is a right strategy but it has to be matched with the right media placement.  There would’ve been no confusion as to the intent in the creative presentation.  Everyone would’ve gotten it and the attention it would attract.  They knew exactly what was going on.   Fernwood are right, however in their response when they say that they don’t believe the word fox is strong or obscene.  It isn’t, when you’re talking about foxes.  But in the context of this ad, it is.  Where they got it wrong is with the media plan.

Am I a prude?  Don’t think so.  It’s not the creative; it’s the media, and the placement in which the grubby line ran (or good, depending on what you think; you can be the judge of whether the media planning for this was intended).  Billboards are hard to hide from the pubic eye, of all ages.  The best way to get the full range of reactions to an ad is to put it in front of everyone.

Whether through creative or media, you might be tempted to get a few laughs, thinking that using a few grubs, foxes and dirt makes your message stick for longer.  Normally it doesn’t.  The greatest ad campaigns ever written didn’t.

You’re above that and don’t need those laughs anyway.  Sure, on one level advertising is entertainment designed to invoke a response.  On another level though it’s part of, reflects and drives (in many ways) our social economy.  Yes, I believe advertising is more important than most people working in advertising do.

Did the campaign work?  I don’t know what the objectives were but I guess if my kids’ reactions are anything to go by maybe it did.  But Fernwood had some other strong campaign lines that suited the media more and played well on the theme.  They didn’t need the other laughs.  They’re above that and you should be too.