Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Marketing Nightmare

I was called in at the last minute to write and anchor newscasts at WMAL this morning (YES!), and my favorite news story of the day involved an ad for Tysons Corner Center - the largest shopping mall in the DC area. The print ad, an approximately 2 1/2 by 3 foot poster that hangs inside Metro subway cars, depicted a woman standing in front of a wall of names. This wall was black, and the letters of the names were an off-white. Here's the picture:

Well, as it so happens, some Vietnam veterans saw this ad, and took instant offense, because they thought the ad was clearly aping the wall at the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial. Jan Scruggs, the president of the Vietnam Veteran Memorial Fund, told the DC Examiner that the ad is an “obvious and blatant misuse of the image of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which has a serious place in America's heart and soul.There is nothing clever about this ad. It is, rather, both distasteful and disgusting.” You can read the entire Examiner article here. And here's a picture of the real wall for comparison purposes:

Was this, in fact, a deliberate parody of the Vietnam Memorial wall? The Mall says it was not. I originally expected it was, but upon further review, I can't imagine why anyone would find that to be funny or attractive, nor can I figure out why a shopping mall would want to be associated in any way with an unpopular war.

But in the end, does it really matter whether the slight was deliberate? All that mattered to Tysons Corner Center is that the story went away. Quickly. And so it did. The Mall apologized and removed the same ads that had just cost them 56,000 dollars to produce and to install in Metro stations. And the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund accepted the apology. And whadda ya wanna bet a few sheckles are heading the Memorial Fund's way, just as a final courtesy?

Men and women died for this lesson in Marketing 101. Just remember that.

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