In Advertising, Stupidity Can Win You Awards [UPDATED]

The World Wildlife Fund condemns an award-winning ad proposal from DDB Brazil, which name-checked both September 11 and the Indian Ocean Tsunami.

9/11 tsunami ad

There are plenty of clever, big-hearted, decent people in the ad industry. But how stupid can ad guys get? Really, really, really stupid. With an extra helping of stupid sauce on the side.

DDB Brazil, hoping to drum up business with the World Wildlife Fund, created this ad, which pointed out that the body count of the Indian Ocean Tsunami dwarfed that of September 11, and admonished, "The planet is brutally powerful. Respect it. Preserve it." Just this morning, the WWF condemned the ad, claiming that it never solicited nor approved it--and further citing DDB Brazil for illegal use of its logo.

Aside from the tastelessness of invoking September 11 in such a crass and sensationalistic way, I'd like to point out that even on its own terms the ad is moronic. It seems to be suggesting that in failing to conserve our resources, we're opening the door to natural cataclysms.

This idea has some merit. Rising ocean temperatures caused by global warming are probably making hurricanes more frequent and intense. If the ad had mentioned a hurricane, maybe it would have at least made sense. (Nevermind that you can't statistically link one hurricane with global warming.) But the tsunami was not a hurricane. It was caused by an earthquake.

And yet, it gets even more laughable: The ad managed to win an award at the One Show, which is supposed to highlight the year's best ad work. Proving, I guess, that the grand poobahs that judge advertising contests are sometimes just as stupid as the people they're judging. The One Show has now pulled the ad from its award listings. Nice.

Of course, the annals of ad history are littered with stupidly offensive work. And here's two more very recent examples, just for kicks.

The first is by NNSS, which is supposed to advertise Argentina's design chops, and how cheap the country has become, thanks to the global financial crisis. Racism? Check! Objectification? Check! Unpleasant reminder of slave trading? Check! Congrats, NNSS. Someone give these guys an award:

nnss ad

And here's another one, courtesy of McCann Erickson. They managed to turn the separation barrier around the West Bank into a bit of lighthearted fun--and in the process, turning the Palestinians sequestered behind the barrier into faceless good sports, just interested in a bit of bonhomie:

UPDATE: The poo thickens: Apparently, WWF's Brazilian operation actually okay'd the Septermber 11 ad by DDB Brazil--It actually ran in a newspaper, despite WWF's insistence that it was never solicited nor approved. And additionally, someone created a full-blown TV version--and DDB Brazil claims it wasn't them. Uh-huh. DDB Brazil has been trying to stamp out the video on the Web. But the damn thing about the Internet is that it always wins:


UPDATE 2: DDB Brazil now admits that they made the video. Nice job handling this one, guys.

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  • Alex

    Thats actually a great ad. Does it diminish 9/11? Yes. Should it? Yes. 3000 casualties and we think thats bad? Thats nothing compared to the people killed in the Haiti earthquake. 316,000 deaths. and then 300,000 in the Indonesia tsunami. Oh and don't get your panties in a bunch, I'm not advocating 9/11. Im just saying thats nothing compared to other disasters. Ohhhh but wait.. ours was worse cause we're in america.. 

  • brian loper

    WOW! all I can say is WOW! You guys are the main reason why advertising is so horrible today. Im not talking about the ad agency that created the 9/11/tsunami piece. Im talking about the ultra conservative nimrod who wrote this article. First off, this piece got you talking about it.(viral) Secondly, Ive seen this before, so obviously it is getting around. 3rd, It hits you in the heart and makes you understand how serious taking care of the planet is. 9/11 was a shock to everyone. So why not show that the casualties from the tsunamis dwarf the casualties from 9/11. It is racy, but who cares. Its a great ad. and thats why it won. I suppose you only like ads with lifestyle cheesy photos of perfectly straight teeth moms and daughters playing in a grass field while the sun is out. 9/11 was real. so stop trying to ignore it, or tip-toe around it. Thats a real ad people. Like it or not. But you sir, are boring.

  • Cliff Kuang

    @Tomas---Your argument rings pretty hollow. With advertising, it doesn't really matter what your intent was--For example, I could show an image of Hitler presiding over a concentration camp to advertise sugar water. I doubt that if I called it "ironic" anyone would care what my intent was. It would still be offensive. Point being, not everyone is going to see the ad as you claim to have intended it. If an alien landed and saw it, I think they'd have very hard time interpreting a half naked man as automatically a "stripper"--There's no copy there to indicate that reading at all. And there's no copy to suggest the irony you wanted to convene. Your defense seems terribly hard to believe in.

  • Dave Kawalec

    Specifically addressing the 9/11 ad, I think the ads are poorly executed. As they were produced, the ads come across as either trying to diminish what happened on 9/11 or comparing tragedies. But I see in them the germ of a very challenging idea.

    My impression is that the original idea was something more along the lines of: "Try to remember how you felt on 9/11. Remember how we all came together after it? Now imagine something 100 times worse happening. What if we could come together 100 times stronger?" Something like that might have been inspirational, even using the same imagery.

  • Tomás Fliess

    My name is Tomás Fliess and I'm the creative director in NNSS Visual Universes.

    Yesterday we received a mail with a link to your site, they have told us something about us was posted in it.

    We were surprised when we read the title of the article, and more surprised when we read what you wrote about our campaign.
    We guess you misunderstood the whole idea. When we thought the campaign we did it on such an innocent way, that we never occur someone could think it was racist.

    We could have picked any male gender person (black, white, yellow, brown, tall, short) indistinctivly. The choice was made because we wanted to emphasize the myth or fantasy the black people have a larger penis. We don't think having a larger male organ can be checked as racist.

    Slave trading?
    What we are saying is that for the price you can get a vibrator in Europe, in Argentina you can hire a stripper with a big dick. (again, the big dick can be white, black or whatever color you want).

    The campaign had an excellent repercussion around the world.
    After we posted the campaign on the design studio facebook, we got some comments from black people who loved the campaign. They even tagged their picture with the name of our character. I don't think they felt it was racist at all. I think they got the message.

    Unfortunately sometimes when you try not to communicate in a literally way, you take a risk some people will not get the message. We are willing to take that risk because we believe consumers are intelligent people who are tired of plain advertising. CHECK!!

    Greetings from Argentina!
    Tomás Fliess