For many of us, our biggest strength often also turns out to be our biggest weakness. For ad agencies, their biggest strengths often are their creativity and sense-of-humor. Those wacky guys in the skinny jeans and pointy shoes crack me up! But when not checked by clients and agency grown-ups, that strength can sometimes manifest itself as a weakness.
Witness K-Mart’s ad agency, Draftfcb. (You can already tell how hip they are just by the funky corporate name.) This is the assignment Draftfcb was given: Promote Kmart as an online shopping outlet, something Kmart is lightly associated with.
But, it’s also critically important that any ad agency also be mindful of the overall brand backdrop for their narrow marketing assignment: Historically, K-mart has had shitty stores, a shitty customer experience, shitty customer service, and shitty products, and, consequently, a shitty brand image. Kmart desperately needs to change both the reality and perception of its wall-to-wall shitty-ness.
So, Draftfcb created, and Kmart approved, this gut-buster:
What a hit! Over 13 million Youtube views! Young people – Kmart’s future! — are Tweeting up a storm about it! Some of them are even checking out the online shopping offerings! They like us, they really, really like us!
I’ll give Draftfcb this: At least they momentarily made Kmart relevant, which was a very difficult thing to do. But what about the impact on the overall Kmart brand? Even if it didn’t further damage the Kmart brand, did it do anything to repair it?
Don’t get me wrong, that there is some seriously funny shit. Even at my age, I’m not above snicker-worthy potty humor. I’m sure the hipster boy geniuses at Draftfcb had a blast creating it, and will probably win oodles of awards for “buzz creation.” I’m also sure the long-suffering Kmart marketing executives felt AWESOME when they showed this hilarious ad to their cocktail party pals, to prove to them how hip and edgy they are making shitty old Kmart.
Maybe I’ll turn out to be wrong, but I worry the comedic desires of the ad agency team overtook Kmart’s strategic brand need. I worry that this iconic viral video effort will further cement in consumers’ minds the association between Kmart and all things shitty. I worry that when viewers of this “eeeeeeewwww”-inducing ad now think Kmart, they also have a little visceral eeeeeeewwww residue in their psyche. Shitty Kmart is uniquely susceptible to that, after all.
It’s true that I now am infinitely more mindful of Kmart as a place for online shopping. (However, search engine optimization would arguably be a more cost-efficient way to achieve the same thing.) Draftfcb nailed that part of the assignment. But the problem is, I still think of Kmart as a really shitty brand with shitty customer service, etc., and I therefore wander away to a myriad of better brands that all also offer online shopping. It’s not sufficient to merely let people know that Kmart offers online shopping. You also have to fix the lousy brand, or that awareness won’t turn into new business.
Humor in advertising can be a powerful weapon to employ against competitors, such as Apple’s deadly funny and effective “I’m a Mac” ads. But this case study reminds us that it also can lead to serious self-inflicted wounds.