The theme song from the movie M*A*S*H was titled Suicide is Painless. However, when Pepsi decided to create an advertising campaign with the lone calorie in its Pepsi Max committing suicide, it caused Pepsi much painful public relations.
To Pepsi’s credit, their director of social and emerging media, contacted the media, including Advertising Age, to applogize. According to an excerpt of the director’s appolgy published by Advertising Age, it included these comments:
“We agree this creative is totally inappropriate…My best friend committed suicide and this is a topic very close to my heart. So again I offer my deepest apologies.”
First, the ad depicts the lone calorie with a gun blowing out its brains (right). At what point does one recognize when something like a bullet in the head for a soft drink is ad is “inappropriate.”
Second, he uses the “I can identify with the pain” PR response by saying his best friend committed suicide. Maybe that friend was just “lonely.” In such case, it would bring us back to the original justification for the Pepsi ad, lonely beings should kill themselves. All is well.
I know that what is “permissible” with communications has changed dramatically since I was growing up. The word “damn” in the movie Gone with the Wind was considered radical at the time. Now we have Sex in the City during primetime.
In the case of using suicide to promote any product, I can’t see how it can ever work. Suicide is a terrible sickness that takes loved ones away from their families.
This reminds of something I talk about when teaching marketing principles. Sometime back, people decided to call a frozen pizza by the name Tombstone. In my mind, equating death with pizza is something I would never have agreed to in a creative brainstorm. So, in fairness, maybe I’m wrong, death can be a marketing tool.