For this week’s post, let’s mix things up with a little controversy. I should preface this by saying that some readers may find this advertisement distasteful. On the other hand, some may find this coy and brilliant. In either instance, it get’s you talking, which I’ll elaborate more on later. Marmite, the salty breakfast yeast spread enjoyed primarily in Britain, worked with Cannes’ 2014 agency of the year winner adam&eveDBB. The ad itself was released in 2013, but received most of its acclaim in 2014. Interesting to note, the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) recoded 250 complaints within the first twenty-four hours of the commercial’s release. This comes as a bit of a shock when taking into account Marmite as a breakfast brand, usually set on maintaining a family-friendly brand image. Depending on how you read into it, that statistic either spells out a clear home-run or regrettable fumble.
So, why the controversy? Marmite’s advertisement was unmistakably inspired by reality and/or documentary-style television shows that follow animal protection workers as they investigate cases of reported neglect. The shaky camera follows the Marmite workers into different residences where they rescue neglected Marmite jars from kitchen cupboards around Britain. They carry the rescued jars in tiny cages and bring them to the Marmite Rehoming Centre where new potential families look to adopt. The guilty culprits of Marmite neglect are ashamed and remorseful, and at one point we even see the taxing toll the job has on one of the workers, as he weeps behind the truck confessing to a coworker, “I’ve not seen one that small before”. At the end, we join a family in their home who have just adopted a new jar. As their youngest child takes a bite, he makes a grimace at the taste and the voiceover restates their slogan, “Love it or Hate it. Just Don’t Forget it.”
The bulk of complaints came from viewers accusing Marmite of trivializing and corporatizing animal abuse, neglect, and rescue efforts. In one respect, they are making a laughing matter out of a very serious issue, so it’s understandable that viewers who are especially passionate about animals rights could take offence. Not to diminish the value of these complains, but my personal opinion–and this is coming from a vegetarian animal-lover who semi-regularly fosters animals from the SPCA–is on Marmite’s side.
Humour, if used properly, can be a solid means of communicating a point or position. It can also be a great subversive tool to hammer that point home. If Marmite’s financial benefit from emulating this serious genre of show is your issue, I would recommend directing focus to the mothership–the television networks who pioneered the genre for their own gain. Moreover, I view this work as more of a hit on the television style and genre than the subject matter at hand. If anything, it reminds the viewer that there is an entire industry crafted around exploiting causes of the like. Even though it is humorous in nature, I would argue that it really does stress the difficult job of animal abuse workers.
Now, all that aside, Marmite’s slogan is “Love it or Hate it. Just Don’t Forget it.” That’s exactly what this commercial accomplishes. It splits its audience, whirls up conversation, and a year later, it’s still as punchy as ever. To be acclaimed at Cannes is a big deal, and side note, PETA also affirmed their support of the commercial. This tongue-in-cheek commercial did exactly what the brand set out to do. And you must admit, the ridiculousness of rescuing jars from houses in residential Britain is pretty funny. It may be insensitive to some extent, I’ll accept that stance, but when the dust has settled, it’s probably done more good than harm by reminding people about the cause through farce. The final shot of the child’s less-than-impressed face is also perfectly placed. If you’ve ever tried Marmite or the similar Australian version Vegemite, you know that the pungent taste also divides, probably to greater extents than this commercial.
In closing, Marmite produced a cheeky ad that got more flack than merited, or alternatively, just as much as they intended.