From 'nice bowls' to nut sacks: The rise of creepy marketing

The tactic may not work for family brands.

From 'nice bowls' to nut sacks: The rise of creepy marketing

In the past few months, brands have offered to send me "steamy noods," told me about their "nice bowls," and discussed nut sacks openly on social media.

I am referring to Nissin Foods’ steamy noods Valentine’s Day campaign; Jack in the Box’s ad promoting the chain’s teriyaki bowls; and Planters mascot Mr. Peanut’s infamous Super Bowl LIII tweet, "This is what I like to call a nut sack."

Have I been deeply offended by these campaigns? Not at all. Have they made me laugh? Kind of. But my immediate gut reaction to all of them has been surprise.

There is something off-putting about a family brand using sexual innuendo as part of a marketing strategy. Or talking about that part of the body. I am looking at you, 103-year-old Mr. Peanut.

In another recent faux pas, Coca-Cola and Delta Airlines apologized for a marketing stunt some customers deemed creepy. The companies handed out napkins encouraging passengers to give out their phone numbers to fellow fliers.

I am all for the wonderful weirdness and sassiness brands such as Wendy’s and MoonPie have popularized on social. But campaigns such as these seem to cross a line from cheekiness into creepiness.

The timing also feels tone deaf. We are living in a post-#MeToo world. Online outrage mobs are ready and waiting for any average Joe, celebrity, or brand to say or do something that hits a sensitive nerve.

Sex in advertising is nothing new. However, in recent years, aspects of it have been curtailed. For example, Badger & Winters launched #WomenNotObjects in 2016 to halt sexism in advertising.

Looking at Super Bowl ads over the past few years, the use of sexual appeals has declined. Maybe creepy marketing is brands’ underhanded way of rebelling.

It all comes down to the brand and its target audience. A sexual message from an unexpected source has the potential to demean a brand. It also will only appeal to a very specific group of people, which can be problematic, especially for family brands.

One upside, though, is that campaigns such as these get people talking and — if shocking enough — sharing. After all, I’m writing about them.

Diana Bradley is associate news editor at PRWeek.

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