Valuable Lesson about ‘Adult’ Marketing and Branding

By Mash Bonigala

There’s no doubt about it: humour sells, and adult humour sells even more so. More and more, advertisers are using adult wit and off-colour advertisements to present their brand as the more hip choice and to woo younger audiences. However, this approach sometimes backfires when the audience is younger than expected. Most recently, well known brand Coca-Cola has sacked digital branding and PR agency Lean Mean Fighting Machine after an adult Facebook campaign for Dr. Pepper turned bad.

The opt-in campaign allowed Facebook users to sign up for ‘status updates’ that would be chosen randomly and displayed on their home page. These were of a humorous slant and even a little racy, an attitude which was intended to appeal to the young adults who are the company’s main target right now. However, the opt-in campaign could not be restricted only to grown-ups in all all-ages forum. Complaints were made when a young girl’s status was hijacked by a status update referencing a well-known adult film.

Unfamiliar with the genre, the girl searched for the film on search engines but was luckily stopped from accessing it by a filter on her computer. However, the parents were upset enough to complain, both to the company and to the public.

Unfortunately, a branding and marketing campaign that is inviting to young adults will likely be inviting to the teens and preteens who try so hard to emulate them. This poses an interesting dilemma for brands looking to use adult humour to get their logo in the public eye. When your logo design becomes racy enough to tickle the fancy of an older teen or younger adult, it just may be a complete turn off for everybody else.

In the wake of the uproar that followed, Coca-Cola chose to break ties with the agency responsible for the campaign, which had previously been contracted to run a similar account for Coke Zero.

While Lean Mean Fighting Machine has been named publically as the originator of the campaign, it should be noted that the agency is not solely responsible for the snafu; Dr. Pepper approved and paid for the campaign. No one could have foreseen the possibility of a fourteen-year-old participating in an adult marketing campaign. Or could they?

This branding campaign has luckily not been as disastrous for Dr. Pepper as it might have been. The adults who were amused by the pornography-referencing updates are not likely to be particularly outraged by this story; if anything, they may find it amusing. However, this may make parents less likely to buy Dr. Pepper for teens, seeing it as an adult brand that is too provocative for their children.

When it comes to branding and logo design, it is more important than ever to hire consultants who are aware of the many considerations that come with these decisions, especially if the brand or logo design in question is particularly provocative. Could a different marketing agency have foreseen the unwanted consequences of this otherwise harmless campaign? The answer is probably yes.