Sony May Singe Itself: Slimy Innuendo Ignites Backdraft

September 2, 2010 Without a doubt, guerrilla marketing campaigns can be effective disruptors as well as clever marketing and teaching tools for advertising AND media literacy.

But what happens when “attention” trumps common sense and branding ethics like this Sony  ambient ad campaign? Its proliferation is akin to the “Captive” audience billboard debacle awhile back.

As soon as this sophomoric, “SEX! (made you look!) ” unoriginal cheapshot from Sony hit the streets in ‘aren’t we clever’ mode, my parent posse lit up my inbox like a holiday tree. Pleas to “make them stop,” calls for regulatory ruin, boycotts, and a cacophony of righteously indignant, raw, angry people were ready to storm their ad agency with fist-pumping zeal.

I usually assess whether ‘ignoring’ it sans commentary is the way to go, or firing up the keyboard to lash another rebel yell for industry accountability in media/marketing environs where ‘mop up’ from ‘shock schlock’ is increasingly part of the media plan.

It’s not even corporate/client ‘risk-taking’ anymore, the tactics are pure, subversive ad strategy. As in, “Let’s throw it out there and then apologize for it later if we have to.”

The good news? There’s gleeful karma knowing that morally bankrupt marketers giving the industry a bad name are actually pouring gasoline on a potentially lethal smoldering fire that could ignite any minute and annihilate them in self-immolation.

Parents and youth are growing weary and testy being treated as commodities, props and numbers with zero regard for the drek d’jour pumped into their ambient living spaces.

In short, the public is getting cranky and annoyed. To me? That’s a very, very good thing.

Sure there’s the requisite battle between those who portray naysayers as people who “can’t take a joke,” those who would rather swap some freedom of speech for a clamp down in regulatory policy and oversights, and those like me who try (gawd knows I try) to see both sides, reframe the conversation with media literacy and ask the ‘what if’ questions.

What if…it were for a public health announcement, like STD prevention?

Um…even repurposed in a sex-education/STD context it conveys “you’re a loser/need help if you’re not sexually active.”

What if…corporate mockery would quit steamrolling over our rights to walk through the world sans ambient mind pollution just ’cause they “can?” Hey, now THERE’S an idea!

As you read through the commentary on ANY of the controversy, you’ll see normally grounded voices starting to raise in a fevered pitch far beyond the polarity of hotheads on both ends of the free speech spectrum.

Comments like these below are starting to ‘talk back’ much louder and stronger to dismissive industry hipsters and eyerollers insistent on ‘get over yourself’ snark…

Here are just a few comebacks conveying a Howard Beale uprising forthcoming…

(At left, Sony’s official website for the movie)

Ahem…Gee, Sony, if the billboards weren’t toxic enough, the subject matter handled as coarse, crass, casual desensitization of adolescent’s budding sexuality should send ’em into sex therapy for years. Bleh.

No wonder antithesis movies like Twilight and The Notebook where things go MUCH slower are box office biggies with kids…

Color me incredulous, but I see a strong desire for a ‘return to romance’ movement of hand-touching, eye-locking,  first kiss tingling gentlemanly ways…Again, if Hollywood’s producer pipeline were smart, they’d have some softer romcom movies in development, since the trash and flash crudity is growing old even with the youth…

Hopeful thought? The more crude our culture gets, the faster the acceleration toward a ‘market correction.’ You can almost set your clocks by it. Example?

From an industry pro: “As a father of three kids, I find the billboards offensive and I’m not a hick, I live in Manhattan and work constantly in the industry. No doubt the movie is as stale as its premise (filled with fart and come jokes perhaps?) but clearly the ads are working as people are talking about it and giving it free press.

…So there is money to be made. But as a previous poster commented, unless you study the billboard which is unlikely (I mean most people have their own life) it seems to be condemning virginity which might be easily understood as a ruse by savvy young adults but completely lost on 11-year-old girls just starting to understand there is this powerful thing called sex in the world”

…”If the campaign were targeted to college kids, i.e. in college newspapers and web sites, I would find it less offputting. But I saw this ad walking on Broadway on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, a highly residential area with about a trillion young kids living there…But, again, there is money to be made, so who gives a s*?”

–Comment by Turk — Wednesday September 1, 2010 @ 9:15am EDT

Or this one dripping in sarcasm:

“Yes, I so enjoy that billboard – even more for it provoking my 8 year old daughter to ask what a virgin was and why you would want to call someone about it.” — Comment by j — Wednesday September 1, 2010 @ 1:41am EDT

“Put this right along with the strip club billboards we’re assaulted with just going about our day. All chatter is not good chatter. It just means people aren’t totally numb to the rampant stupidity. Yet. This movie deserves to fail.” —Comment by Nick — Wednesday September 1, 2010 @ 12:01pm EDT

“Huckleberrys are being duped” Wow. And we wonder why the rest of the country thinks we’re all arrogant pricks? No one is being “duped.” The billboards exist, don’t they? Your assumption that people don’t “get” that it is a film campaign is quite a leap. The campaign implies that being a virgin is a negative, something that *gasp!* parents may not like their children being fed while simply walking down the street.” –Comment by Ivy — Tuesday August 31, 2010 @ 10:57pm EDT

Can you feel the heat? Even industry commentary on Ad Age itself swings in this direction, as reporter Ken Heaton writes:

“The trailer for the Sony Pictures flick makes it look like your typical Nerd Comes of Age movie redone for the YouTube generation (other than that, I can’t tell what the hell the plot is supposed to be). Don’t know that I’d watch such a thing, but I did break down and call the number. Sort of clever in that it’s set up just like your typical bank or credit-card company call center. “Press one,” indeed.

Followed by comments like:

“As a parent I was humored and offended by the movie trailer at the same time. A for creative thinking. D for subject matter.” —santosmlopez | Kingston, NY September 1, 2010 09:29:37 am

“The ad, not the movie, threatens to be the star of the show.” —ActionAd | Grand Rapids, MI September 1, 2010 02:34:02 pm:

Now…for those who haven’t already surmised my take on why Sony should be strung up for this ploy…

Here’s my take on it, verbatim from a comment I left on Deadline New York trying to give their readers quick tips on how AMBIENT advertising is the urban wallpaper we can’t turn off.

Comment by Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth Wednesday September 1, 2010 @ 8:00pm EDT

“As a former ad agency writer/creative director it’s a given that it’s an attention “win” but at what cost? The ambient message (that you can’t ‘turn off’ like other electronic media, btw) is you’re a loser if you’re a virgin.

Is this the message we want to send amidst a pile of bedhopping teen soaps and prego highschool mamas, while clucking about ‘abstinence sex ed’ in schools when kids need comprehensive information?

America is stuck in a Puritanical disconnect between what we sell to kids as ‘cool’ and what we TELL to kids as fact. (or DON’T tell, as is the case w/sexed)

It will cost us as a society far beyond the buzzed about ‘win’ for eyeballs in a short-lived campaign for a trashy, sophomoric flick that desensitizes youth to what sex/intimacy even IS, much less what this billboard implies.

Further reading on Shaping

Kids Are A Captive Audience With Ambient Advertising

Mommy, Why Are Her Legs Spread Like That?

Shaping Youth Through Ambient Advertising:

Oh! And just so you KNOW, I’m an advocate of comprehensive sex-ed and NOT a ‘pearl clutching helicopter parent’ as so many of us are depicted who have a concern about fouling up kids’ healthy sexuality. Evidence?

Influencers, Accountability & the Global Cost to Youth

In sum, as an industry CW/CD (copywriter/creative director) I’m no stranger to creating the almighty attention getting headline, but this one is a fouled up FAIL. And don’t even get me started on how lame unoriginal retreads like this even get the Hollywood greenlight in the first place.

Now…your thoughts?  “Hit me with your best shot…fire away.”

More Shaping Youth Posts on Ambient/Viral/Guerrilla Marketing

Mommy, Why Are Her Legs Spread Like That?

Talk About An Err(or) Cartoon Marketing Stunt Bombs

Youth Culture Clash: When Parody Strikes & Adults Freeze

Kids Are A Captive Audience With Ambient Advertising

Commodification of Kids, The Backlash Has Begun

Shaping Youth Through Ambient Advertising

FUN post on “Customers Rock” On Ambient Advertising (great examples!)

Bottom Feeders Like American Apparel Need Whacked in the Assets

Girls Are Not Candies, Tweens Are Not Teens (more commodification)

I’d add the trailer…but it’s so base, banal and boring it’s not worth EVEN TWO minutes of your time. Really.



  1. This wouldn’t trouble me so much if the main character of the movie (Matt Bennett) wasn’t played by the star of a NICKELODEON SHOW. It is absolutely inconceivable to think Nickelodeon would allow their stars to appear in such filth. Nickelodeon has better act soon, I will certainly not be letting my children watch their shows anymore.

  2. Great point about Matt Bennett, Bob…it’s the same reason I find it a ‘wth?’ moment to have Nickelodeon arrange for gossip rag meanie Perez Hilton to have a ‘cameo’ on their tween show Victorious:

    Do 8-12 y.o. kids REALLY need to have toxic slammers sent to them in a G rated show to ‘upsell’ them into the higher eschelon of celeBRATTY backtalk? I think not.

    Nickelodeon’s attempt to be ‘uber hip’ by seeding G shows with PG13 to R content is akin to fast food chains merchandising PG13 films via Happy Meal Toys…NOT appropriate age compression targeting.

    Not to mention that it’s a devolved/brash POV on sexual exploits as ‘sport’ vs. any nuanced POV of healthy sexuality and adolescent ‘coming of age’ style films. (Perez Hilton, Nickelodeon? Really? ugh)

    The Frisky (author Jessica Wakeman) summed my feelings well here:

    Why Perez Hilton Should Not Be On Nickelodeon

    “Perez Hilton is on the shortlist of awful human beings that I don’t want exposed to my future children. So why, oh why would the kids’ channel Nickelodeon invite the self-proclaimed Queen of All Media to guest star on one of its shows? Perez announced that on Friday, August 27th, at 8 p.m., he’ll have a cameo on “Victorious,” the channel’s highest rated new TV show starring teen actress Victoria Justice. Excellent idea! Let’s expose all the tweens to the most sexist, nastiest gossip blogger out there and make him look “cool.”

    Nevermind that he posted upskirt pics of Miley Cyrus’ crotch (who is a goddess for people who buy their jewelry at Claire’s), calls anyone he doesn’t like a slut, and Photoshops jizz and penises coming out of people’s mouths—he’s gonna be on Nickelodeon? I’m not normally the type of person to wring my hands and say, “Oh noes! Think of the children!” when it comes to sex and drugs and stuff. But that d-bag has no business around 11-year-olds. The last person a bunch of middle schoolers (and soon-to-be middle schoolers) should be looking up to is someone whose behavior is consistently misogynist and cruel. I know it’s just a cameo, but still … “Ugh.”

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