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Griefploitation

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There has been a growing trend in advertising and media recently which involves using grief-related themes in communications to promote brands – some call it ‘Griefploitation’ and it probably needs to stop. This term has been coined to explain the recently evident trend of marketers using things like death, break-ups and teenage stresses as the major theme in their communications.

like McDonalds, Cheerios and Homebase have all been culprits of this through TV ads and Twitter activity for instance. McDonalds’ recent ad this year exploited bereaved children to essentially sell a Fillet-O-Fish, not to anyone’s surprise 150 people complained to the Advertising Standards Authority getting the ad pulled and McDonalds offered their apology as expected. When the icon Prince died last year, Cheerios tweeted “Rest in peace” on a purple background – with a cheerio replacing the dot above the i. Fans were not impressed and Cheerios quickly deleted the tweet.

In my opinion, this type of advertising probably doesn’t come from an evil or insidious place; it comes from a place where advertisers are trying to push boundaries like they usually try to

Even Facebook have started to promote Griefploitation by claiming to be able to identify when teenagers are stressed, anxious or going through a break up. Utilising this information, certain brands like travel or fashion related brands can upweight spend to these audiences. Facebook have said this is acceptable by letting advertisers target these audiences and they claim that they are in fact providing a type of healing or therapy service, which is coming from an entirely genuine place of course! Clearly this example is more planned and targeted, however where should we draw the line?

In my opinion, this type of advertising probably doesn’t come from an evil or insidious place; it comes from a place where advertisers are trying to push boundaries like they usually try to, but they’ve just pushed it a little too far. Surprisingly, no one has thought to say throughout the planning or creative processes ‘Isn’t this just going to land horribly wrong with our audience?’. In all honesty, I think it comes down to common sense as the key takeout from this emerging trend is that exploiting grief in advertising and media doesn’t sell and inevitably makes your brand seem cold-blooded and heartless which is the opposite to the heart-warming, emotional message that your brand wanted to propagate in the first place. Thinking about the bottom line, these blunders are just expensive as the communication piece seems to get pulled or deleted at the end of the day.

What I’ve learnt from this problematic trend is that knowing your audience inside out and keeping them central when you are developing advertising communications is paramount. More importantly, if you think a line had been crossed have the confidence to challenge and question its appropriateness, you might just safe a negative PR storm!

Arjun Yadav, Campaign Executive

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