Bad ads can sell good products if you do this…

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REY ELBO

REY ELBO

SERIOUSLY, poorly conceived or even plagiarized advertisements can make good products go to greater heights. Well … as long as the product is at least good, if not exceptional in the eyes of the consumers or target market. No amount of bad publicity can put a good product down, not even the Philippines that released an advertisement about its tourism program that was allegedly copied by an ad agency from another commercial in South Africa.

Here’s one example: S&B Foods is a Japanese company that manufactures, sells and distributes a “dazzling variety of spices, condiments and cooking ingredients, including curry sauce mix, pasta sauce and Chinese food products,” according to its website. Founded in 1923, S&B was the first company to produce curry powder in Japan and is known to have invented tube wasabi to help it conquer foreign markets.

Decades back, S&B bragged about changing the appearance of Mount Fuji. “It announced that it was going to use helicopters to scatter some of the yellow curry powder it produced onto Mount Fuji’s snow-white peak. The population would then see Mount Fuji with a golden summit. With this announcement, the company wanted to boost flagging sales of its curry powder,” according to Harro von Senger in “The 36 Stratagems for Business” (2006).

“The storm of indignation immediately broke loose,” says Senger (b.1944), a Swiss lawyer and a professor of Sinology at the University of Freiburg in Germany. S&B was heavily criticized, including by the mass media that activated the flame of hate. How could a company deface a national treasure like Mount Fuji?


S&B attracted a lot of bad publicity. Immediately, it reconsidered its decision and hastily abandoned the plan, and “at the same time, it expressed feelings of regret to the Japanese people…Then the people suddenly exclaimed, ‘Where there’s great wealth, behavior is generous,’” and the Japanese praised the company to the skies.

“The company’s name was on everyone’s lips. And in the end, its curry powder flew off the shelves” and became a household name when it comes to delicious curry products, and became “a major reason why the dish is now Japan’s quintessential comfort food.”

There are many examples out there. Senger also talks about the PR blitz of Swatch, a Swiss watch that was advertised and hanged like a 140-meter working watch in a tall bank edifice, the case of an apple juice “with sparkling mineral water, dressed up,” and the “green parrot with red beak” – a spinach meal offered by a poor farmer to a Chinese emperor which was embellished with “red beaks” or the reddish spinach stalks.

And so, how can bad ads sell good products? It appears to be counter-intuitive, but Jonathan Salem Baskin may have the right answer: In his Nov. 28, 2012 Forbes article entitled, “How Come Bad Ads Sell Good Products and Good Ads Can’t Sell Bad Ones?” Baskin says “what works is when brands establish and sustain meaningful, useful and truthful relationships with their customers. Sexy, funny, engaging and all the other qualities to which we marketers aspire are really secondary, at best, and distractions, at worst.”

The key phrase is “truthful relationships.” As long as you’re honest to admit the mistake, there’s no point of perpetuating the issue. The more you deny, the more you attract criticisms, not only in the traditional media, but in the social media as well. Really, an immediate admission of guilt can disarm critics.

But then, is this a case of framing? In social theory, the technique of framing happens when people build a series of mental “filters” through different means, so much so that they communicate more about reality, rather than accept the misguided defense of people, as in the case of Communications Assistant Secretary Mocha Uson, who used the term “symbolism” when she was caught using the photograph of Vietnamese soldiers in her recent article about the so-called “rebellion” in Marawi City.

The sooner that one corrects a mistake, the better for everyone. And I must commend the Department of Tourism for canceling the alleged plagiarized tourism ad in no time at all, except that I can’t decipher why its media announcement has to be written in capital letters.

In conclusion: Forget about putting up a hard line stand against critics. Admit the mistakes in the process of disarming the critics right away. After all, George Bernard Shaw was right: “A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.”

Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing in human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback to elbonomics@gmail.com or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter for his random management thoughts on Elbonomics.

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