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.


About the author

Cliff was director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.