Ad Nausea

Few people at Masterfoods are snickering behind their hands this week, as the company, a division of Mars, has come under fire for the Snickers ad that aired during the Super Bowl. After complaints from organizations such as the Human Rights Campaign and the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, marketers have pulled the ad.

At the same time, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has publicly denounced a GM ad that also aired during the game. While it’s debatable whether either ad was bad — in terms of creativity or political correctness and cultural sensitivity — the hue and cry raises some interesting questions.

As was seen in the recent Aqua Teen Boston Farce, controversial marketing campaigns can increase the reach a campaign might have otherwise had. But that street goes two ways. Controversial ads also give political and cultural advocacy groups the opportunity to protest publicly — attracting media attention the groups might not have gotten otherwise, and attracting attention to the groups’ causes and issues.

So it’s arguable that controversial ad campaigns benefit the very organizations that react negatively in response to the campaigns — by providing them a mass-market platform for their messages.