Branding of Evil Part II...

Using Evil to Sell Products... Not Good

Last week I wrote a blog on the Kony 2012 video titled "The Branding of Evil". I sent the post to Tim Nudd, Senior Editor at Adweek (Tim's also a personal friend). After reading my post Tim mentioned some recent commentary that Adweek has done on ads where Hitler and Nazi imagery have been used to sell products. I checked it out and was amazed at what they'd pulled together. In Turkey one Biomen ad in particular has old footage of the real Hitler screaming out with an overdub promoting the product go to page.

According to Adweek the voice-over translates to: "If you're not wearing women's clothes, you shouldn't be using women's shampoo either. Here it is. A real man's shampoo. Biomen. Real men use Biomen." ...So its got some women-hating undertones to boot... WOW!

If you scroll down further on this page there is a whole collection of ads with the Nazi leader. I was both appalled and fascinated at how such tasteless decisions could be made over and over again. The visual I've included for this post is an ad for "New Form Jeans" and its from the same Adweek stream... This ad carries the line "Change Your Style. Don't Follow Your Leader." and was meant to aid young people in following their own style. If you have any knowledge of the history of World War II the messaging along with the visual is totally confusing.

Its plain and simple. There's nothing funny or ironic about Hitler. Using his image out of context is just a bad move. World War II and the holocaust are always a part of his representation and it should remain this way. Before seeing these ads I would have thought that this was obvious but apparently its not.

As a creative I do my best to "push the envelope" in terms of challenging what could be considered the usual sensibilities. I've even been known to break a few rules here and there. In many ways I believe this to be the role of creative professionals. To a great extent this is healthy. And when I'm in creative discussions with marketing or product teams I try to avoid discussions about bottom line so that we don't hinder ideas or insights that may come to someone. I try to allow myself to come up with whimsical, silly or at times even extreme ideas. Some of the best thinking is done when you just let your mind wander.

The point I'm making is that in a brainstorm, the idea of Hitler could come up very easily. Hitler embodies the idea of extreme evil (for very good reason!). I can't imagine that this will ever change although these ads are an inadvertent attempt to do just that. The ad in itself is an relic left behind from where these creative teams just stopped thinking. It is also unnerving how placing Hitler in pink attempts to reintroduce him to a young generation in a way that's supposed to be clever or a play on rebelling against leaders... the psychology behind this being that kids think their parents or teachers are Nazi's maybe? (a 'rock and roll' type of sentiment I suppose)... Isn't it irresponsible to reinforce this idea just to sell jeans?

What is most important to note though is that in order to execute on a design/message like this you have to disconnect the image of Hitler from the actual history. This is the only way in which the ad could work. Though I’m happy to say that the ad doesn’t work. Its one thing to say, "Your parents are lame." Its another to put lipstick on the most vicious dictator that ever lived and giggle about it.

What is arguably the greatest flaw in the messaging of this ad is that it makes Hitler into a joke. He becomes benign and this insidiously paves the way to perpetuate the fascist sensibilities that he embodied. This is the very reason why its offensive.

Fascism is a "violent rehashing of cultural myths; race, blood, leader."* This ad is not thought out enough to fend off the fascism in which it makes fun. Consequently it becomes fascist itself but in a more complacent way. Being disruptive and being offensive are two different things.

Please be responsible when designing for your brand.


*paraphrased from Guy Debord







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