Sometimes marketing can do something brilliant, like when Snickers let the Internet set candy prices. Recently, though, companies seem more frequently to do something pretty dumb. This week's example is how car manufacturer Audi insulted much of China's population by equating getting married to buying a horse -- or cow.
It's another example of a string of marketing disasters that have seem to be more common. Some examples: Dove asking women to categorize their bodies in some insulting ways, McDonald's said a fish sandwich makes up for a dead father, or Pepsi's disastrous Kendall Jenner ad claimed a can of soda and a party solve any issue Black Lives Matter could have.
In this case, German auto manufacturer Audi, which is owned by Volkswagen Group, compared buying a second-hand car to getting married. That is, if you consider marriage to include the soon-to-be spouse's mother checking the eyes, teeth, and ears of the bride as though she were livestock.
Check out the commercial below. I promise, you won't need subtitles.
People on social media in China went nuts. According to Washington Post translations of some posts, people condemned the ad as "disgusting," with some saying they had planned to buy an Audi, but the commercial changed their minds.
Audi apologized yesterday with a statement provided to multiple media outlets that the "ad's perception that has been created for many people does not correspond to the values of our company in any way." It also pointed blame at the used car division of its joint venture in China. (Foreign companies are required to work with local partners.) So, compound the problem with passing the buck.
Every time I see a big company pull an unbelievably all-too-believable-these-days advertising blunder, I spend some time sitting with my mouth open. With all the money, people, and expertise at hand, they make utterly rookie mistakes. Here are a few steps that any company should be able to implement to avoid such problems.
- Take responsibility. Don't point at an agency or even a joint venture partner. If your reputation is on the line, make sure you've negotiated the ability to review marketing.
- Get independent expertise. You want someone who knows the market, language, and culture and who isn't beholden to your company or a partner. Get a quick and honest reaction before committing to what could be an expensive mistake.
- Take the time necessary. Yes, markets move quickly, but nowhere near as fast as many in business like to think. There's plenty of time to vet a concept like this when you consider how much time and energy addressing a gaffe will require.