Sexist Advertising Wins a Lot of Attention in Israel, but at a Cost

Beer company and burger chain's campaigns made a big splash but also riled consumers; advertising experts warn that provocation is good for the short term, but hurts the brand.

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Young women throwing themselves at older men, a baby surrounded by young girls and a fat child portrayed in a humiliating fashion – these are some of the ads made in recent years that have caused viewers to get up and respond.

They don’t go out into the streets, but they make their disgust known to the television networks that broadcast them and in some cases have called for boycotts of advertisers.

The Agadir hamburger chain was the latest to meet head-on with public anger. The chain is known for provocative advertising with a heavy dose of sex; this time its ad showed scantily clad young women cuddling up to much older men.

The protest erupted and Agadir’s ratings on restaurant sites took a hit, but the company refused to drop the campaign and instead went after its critics.

“Instead of ending the campaign Agadir chose to use all means at its disposal to remove from the Internet what the Israeli public thinks about it,” griped the managers of a Facebook page protesting the chain’s advertising. “A sexist ad campaign you can buy with money, but you can’t buy the public’s sympathy.”

Gabi Attal, a partner in the ad firm Two65, defends his work on the Agadir campaign. His client believes in creative advertising out of the mainstream.

“You have to take into account that a lot of the noise was also from vegans, who were very much involved in the social media reaction. The key is to identify the noise and learn how problematic it is. In Agadir’s case a lot of the noise was generated by these groups,” he said.

The Agadir campaign was supposed to be launched in cooperation with the local bottler of Tuborg beer – and, in fact, in some of the ads a Tuborg bottle appears – with the slogan “rich taste” the brewer uses all over the world. Tuborg was supposed to cover a third of its 120,000-shekek ($31,000) costs, TheMarker has learned.

Brewer pulls out

But when the brewer saw the ads planned for the campaigns, it pulled out. Still Agadir kept to the campaign and CEO Eitan Trabelus insists it was all over nothing. “Suddenly every wants to be politically correct,” he said.

Other companies have shown more sensitivity. Domino Pizza pulled an ad whose slogan was “A special so simple that even a pretty young woman can get it.” The food maker Unilever Israel was ordered by broadcast regulators to limit airing of ads for its Karyiot children’s breakfast cereal that portrayed very young children as sexual objects.

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More recently an ad for the children’s apparel brand Keds showing young girls in provocative poses and prompted protests that it was encouraging pedophilia. A month later the maker of Goldstar beer was slammed for ads that showed women in a degrading manner – hellbent on getting married and believing in a superstition about behavior that will delay their wedding day. The ad ends by saying be thankful you’re a man who can enjoy a beer.

But Agadir seems to have won the offensiveness stakes. A survey of social media reaction to the three campaigns by Vigo, a company that analyzes Facebook and similar forums, found the Agadir campaign went viral very quick and elicited a stronger and more negative reaction than the others.

Between 80% and 90% of the posts for all three campaigns were negative – and in the case of Goldstar, 30% called for boycotting the product – but the number of posts about Agadir increased tenfold after the campaign was launched, versus a three-fold increase for Goldstar and five-fold rise for Keds.

“In the last few months a critical conversation has been under way in social media against contempt for women and their objectification,” said Raviv Tal, Vigo’s CEO, which he traced back to complaints about the way female Knesset members were treated during last March’s general election and the reaction to soldier May Fattal’s sexual harassment complaint against her commander, Lt. Col. Liran Hajbi. The behavior of MK Oren Hazan and U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump has added fuel to the fire.

“In the current situation a provocative campaign will encounter a wall of protest on the Internet, which hurts the brand’s standing in the eyes of whole population groups. A brand hit with calls for a boycott is going to be hurt economically in the end.”

Advertisers admit that concerns about social media reaction are a factor in designing campaigns. On the one hand, advertisers want to attract attention and make noise, but on the other hand fret about crossing a red line.

“You want it and you don’t want it – it’s on your mind all the time. You want a sexy campaign that will make noise but stop yourself when you think it’s going to anger someone,” said one ad executive, who asked not to be identified.

Einat Yoznat-Ravid, CEO of the ad agency Yehoshua TBWA, said there’s no reason why ads have to be controversial to attract attention. “When I saw the Agadir ad I didn’t feel comfortable. Provocation is by nature going to attract attention, but does it serve the brand over the long run? Our goal as advertisers is to build an emotional connection that leads to a long-term connection with the consumer.”