Friday, March 16, 2012

The Power of An Ad: Mad Men Controversy

On March 25th, the critically acclaimed TV show Mad Men, finally comes back for its 5th season after a one year hiatus. As an avid Mad Men fan, I could not be more excited to finally have this show and all its slightly dysfunctional characters back in my life. Unfortunately, the show has been getting a lot of attention recently for a different reason than its programming--an ad. In this day and age, it feels as if print ads have the potential to be the least controversial, as they involve the smallest amount of time and only appeal to the eyes of the viewer, yet this minimalistic ad drew a lot of criticism, specifically in New York.

Arguably the most defining aspect about the ad was that it did not even include the words Mad Men, but instead relied on the preexisting knowledge of the viewer to recognize the font and image. What was shown was the black silhouette of a man falling from a skyscraper in the opening credits of the program, with the words MARCH 25, written on the bottom in he standard Mad Men fount-- all over a plain white backdrop. This likely wouldn't have caused much controversy, yet the minimalist aesthetic it created forced the ad to interact with its environment more. As a result, when New Yorkers looked at the ad, instead of that blank space, they saw buildings reflected in the image. And as a whole, this added dimension of the ad was too much more many New Yorkers, as it resembled the photographs of desperate human beings jumping from the Twin Towers during 9/11. Consequentially, this raises the question of whether or not ad companies should censor themselves based on their target audience and location.

In my opinion, there are certain topics that can be incredibly delicate for a community, and therefore ad companies only do harm to themselves by creating very controversial content. 9/11 is clearly still a sensitive topic to New Yorkers, especially given that the
10th reunion of the attacks happened this past September. It's incredibly difficult for a city to brush off such an attack lightly, and it takes years to completely heal the wound created. Therefore ad companies ought to be aware that these sensitivities exist, and that they should be avoided in cases where they would upset a large group of people. It is completely possible that the creators of the ad completely overlooked this association, yet I still get the feeling that they were trying to be controversial while maintaining the identity and images present in their show. At the same time, it should be within the freedom of expression for an ad company to show such an image to market its show, as there is no blatantly offensive material being shown, such a nudity or curse words. Yet in this circumstance, it comes across as Mad Men trying to be controversial for the sake of being controversial and creating conversation, rather than actually trying to express themselves. As a result, I believe that the designers behind the print Mad Men ad should have been more sensitive to their audience and the location of the posters, and thereby adapted them so that they wouldn't be so upsetting to so many.

-Ashleigh Wais

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