Mockups We Love to Hate
You know the recent ad mockups for Ford with illustrations of women tied up in a van driven by Silvio Berlusconi which led JWT to fire the employees behind it? I find it interesting—even hypocritical—that so many media cry foul while eagerly rushing to reproduce the images.
Which is why I’m neither reproducing nor linking to them here.
Since the ads didn’t run and reportedly were not seen by senior execs on the agency or client side, we are left to assume the whole thing was a gag at the hands of lower-level folks who should have known better. But was it? We’re talking three, well-crafted illustrations. They would have taken time and work. Not typically the sort of thing one tosses out merely to be funny.
Much has been written in the way of outrage as to what the folks behind the mockups deemed funny. Rather than try to out-outrage them, I’m going to address another lesson: that one must take care with gags. Gags have a habit of getting out. Especially in an internet age.
Twice, I learned this the hard way—fortunately, before the internet age.
The first took place when I was a hospital chain’s advertising manager. I had spotted an edgy fertility clinic ad in a trade magazine. Knowing that my ultra-conservative employer would be aghast, I had our ad agency mock it up with our logo. I showed it to my boss who laughed out loud and showed it to his boss. His boss laughed out loud and showed it to his boss, the CEO. Drawing a heavy sigh, the CEO approved it. Suddenly I was in the position of having to explain to him that (a) he had been duped (he wasn’t fond of being duped), (b) I had plenty to do with my time, and (c) our organization didn’t even have an infertility clinic.
The second took place years later after I’d opened the RESPONSE Agency. A college professor advised one of my clients to run ads attacking the competition. In general this is a stupid idea, and in this case it was mega stupid. That’s the problem with consultants loaded with theory in place of practical experience, which the professor personified. Over my objections, the client told us to propose some attack ads. We gave it a good effort, but for fun threw in a mockup with an odious sexual connotation. It was for our direct contact’s eyes only. As we expected, he found it funny. Not as we we expected, he forgot to remove it before sending the stack of ads up the ladder. Back came a note from his indignant boss: “Is the agency aware that this headline has an odious sexual connotation?”
I am happy to say that I have learned my lesson. Well, sort of. Almost. Now when we mock up a gag for the eyes of one person only, we don’t leave it behind. And we sure as heck don’t email or post it. When the laughs are over, we take it back and shred it.