Do You Police Your Brand’s Ad Content?

As a long-term Words With Friends user (both paid and unpaid), I was stunned by an ad that was presented to me recently. The headline “Want a Girlfriend?” showed me pictures of scantily-clad girls who were CLEARLY under age. The call to action was a huge arrow with the word “FREE” and the copy read “Start Chatting [SIC] Now!” I was so surprised and appalled that I actually did click, because I wanted to know who the advertiser was behind this message.

Native AdvertisingAs a long-term Words With Friends user (both paid and unpaid), I was stunned by an ad that was presented to me recently. The headline “Want a Girlfriend?” showed me pictures of scantily-clad girls who were CLEARLY under age. The call to action was a huge arrow with the word “FREE” and the copy read “Start Chating [SIC] Now!”

I was so surprised and appalled that I actually did click, because I wanted to know who the advertiser was behind this message. When I did, the next screen contained a warning that “this site may contain pictures of someone you know” and that I had to be at least 21 years old.

The advertiser appeared to be “best-daily-apps.com.”

Typically, the ads presented to me on WWF include brands like Ford or Toyota, or even other games, so I was truly stunned that Zynga had even agreed to allow this type of ad to appear — and immediately assumed that someone had fallen asleep in the sales department.

So, I went on LinkedIn, identified the Zynga CMO and sent her an InMail message questioning her on how this advertiser might reflect poorly on the Zynga brand, and inviting her to engage in a dialogue. Needless to say, she did not respond.

When I first started in the advertising business, there were rules as to what you could and couldn’t say in an ad — whether it was on TV, radio or in print. Those censors still exist today — as witnessed by the recent Lane Bryant spots that were deemed unsuitable for national networks ABC and NBC. It seems that partially-clad bodies of heavy-set women are inappropriate while next-to-nude Victoria’s Secret models are just fine.

Our agency was recently challenged by Pandora on a radio spot we created for a local client. In it, an elderly grandma-type used foul language that was intentionally bleeped, so as to suggest the more colorful word, but even those bleeps were too much for the Pandora censor.

But who is policing games (from a publicly-held company, no less) or other online applications? In a marketplace that relies so heavily on advertising revenue, is there no limit on what’s acceptable? Have brands become so desperate for sales that anything goes?

Call me old, but I can no longer look at many of the online “news” sites because the digital advertising is often so prolific that I can’t read a complete reading article without getting a headache from all the advertising distractions. Call me a prude, but I don’t think Zynga should accept ads from questionable marketers like this one.

Or have brands lost their moral compass as they desperately attempt to reach their revenue goals?

I don’t know about you, but this experience with WWF has left me with a negative impression of the Zynga brand. At the very least, I question the wisdom of the Harvard grad who sits at the top of the marketing food chain.

Ford Cuts the BS and Focuses on Trust

In my opinion, the quickest way to customers’ hearts — and wallets — is to be authentic. Partnering with Pitchfork Media, Ford has created a series of Web videos in which female artists, like Elle King and Betty Who, get together and have honest conversations about what’s important to them … while driving around in a Ford Focus.

Elle King and Betty Who In FocusA couple of weeks ago, as I scrolled through my Facebook feed, I came across a “Suggested Post” from Ford featuring a video of Elle King and Betty Who. I’m a fan of Elle, so I stopped scrolling and watched, despite my usual disdain for all things “suggested” on social.

The video is just under three minutes, and these two female musicians discuss things near and dear to my heart: body image issues and body positivity, being authentic and creative, pushing the limits that people set for you as a woman. I watched the entire thing, realizing that, yes, Elle and Betty are driving around Brooklyn in a Ford Focus, but the car is not the focus (pun intended) of the video.

Instead, it’s these two bright, talented, articulate women talking about life, talking about issues that I deal with, too. And what kept me watching was the conversation they were having … an honest conversation between two friends. I loved it.

https://youtu.be/yc3yhpDFl8s

It’s not until 2:41 in the video that you see the words “Ford Focus” come onto the screen. Then there’s a quick shot of the traditional Ford logo, followed by Elle mentioning that if you want to listen to the entire conversation (yes, they recorded a fabulous 20 minutes!), go to infocus.pitchfork.com.

By 2:50, there’s about 9 seconds of video of a gentleman telling Betty, still in the driver’s seat, about the assisted backup camera in the car. But that’s it.

Ford used 9-10 seconds of a 2 minute and 59 second video for its product, and left the remaining 95 percent of the video in the hands of Elle and Betty.

Better yet, here are some of the Facebook shares I found of this video:

Screen Shot 2015-12-30 at 9.59.43 AM

Screen Shot 2015-12-30 at 9.59.23 AMNow, are these people talking about how they want to go out and buy a Ford Focus? No, and that’s ok. They’re talking about Elle and Betty’s conversation, about how much they like the musicians.

What Ford did right here was to partner with Pitchfork, a Chicago-based online publication know for its coverage of indie music. Pitchfork was able to make the connections with the musicians, Ford provided the cars, and the end result is some really stellar content marketing.

I can’t say whether or not this will help sell cars, but so far there are three episodes, all with this focus:

We’re in an unprecedented era of female artistry — women are changing the landscape in music, art, literature, and more. In Focus brings together two brilliant female artists to share their experiences, get to know each other, and honestly discuss all the things that are important to them.

These videos will attract a female audience; they will possibly help Ford earn the trust of this audience; and if nothing else it will get people talking. I know I have been … aside from this post, I’ve already mentioned the Elle and Betty video to several of my female friends.

Good job Ford and Pitchfork. You know who you’re trying to reach, you’re giving me content I care about — from people I admire — and you’re not trying to cram in a hard sell for your car.

Oh, and it helps that your website is pretty freaking gorgeous.

Now, in comparison, you have the Matthew McConaughey ads for Lincoln … and the ridiculously funny spoof ads from SNL.

https://youtu.be/NcGhLcVqxf0

Needless to say, if SNL is spoofing you, there might be a problem. And for Lincoln, the bigger question is how do you expect to make an honest connection?