Plausible Deniability?

If you missed all the clamor over the recent North Dakota Tourism advertisement that featured two young men looking appreciatively at three young ladies through the big front windows of the Ho Do bar in Fargo – now is your chance to get up to speed on it.  The advertisement  featured the following script, “Drinks, dinner, decisions. ARRIVE A GUEST. LEAVE A LEGEND.”    It wasn’t received all that well by most of the folks who saw it.

Shortly after the advertisement was yanked from the North Dakota Tourism Facebook page, The Forum featured an article about how taken aback the young folks who modeled for the ad were by the negative feedback.  I guess the comments on Facebook got pretty nasty and the ad models started to feel personally attacked.  But the ad was pulled and life and the media’s attention went on quickly to other more dire situations than ill-conceived marketing.

Until yesterday, when The Forum published a letter to the editor from Sara Otte Coleman the Director of North Dakota’s Tourism Division (which is housed in the North Dakota Department of Commerce).  The letter was, in my estimation, intended to offer an official response and explanation regarding the advertisement and was, on the whole, quite good.  However (and isn’t there always a however expected at this point?), there was one part of the letter that I thought she could have left out. I excerpt it below.

Our first reaction to the negative feedback was, “Wow! Some people have too much time on their hands and watch a little too much ‘Jersey Shore.’ ” But as the comments evolved, we realized that some people read much more into this ad than what we were trying to communicate and that their interpretation was certainly not what we were trying to accomplish. Frankly, we were surprised by their reaction, and we apologize to anyone who was offended by the ad.

Now wait a minute Ms. Coleman…you are the Tourism Director for North Dakota, you market the state as part of your day-to-day job and you ostensibly have a good sense of the state’s identity, and you were “surprised” by folks reactions to that ad?  I am sorry, that comment lacks plausible deniability. 

Plus, let me note that I am thankful to the folks who first raised the red flag on that advertisement (you know, the folks with too much time on their hands who watch a little too much Jersey Shore) – without them you might have actually rolled out this advertisement which is fairly characterized as a tad tasteless.  While I can certainly giggle at the ad’s tagline (as far as its creativity goes) and follow through with a joke about these fellows’ opportunity to leave the state as legends in their own minds,  I shudder at the thought that this advertisement came from an official North Dakota channel.  This is the type of ad we would see in parody, not one that the state put out to speak to the night life for visitors to Fargo. I won’t even go into the subliminal messaging regarding women this ad presents, but I want to note that I appreciate those complaints regarding this ad.

I consider myself a big fan of marketing done well and a person with fairly liberal viewpoints on hitting marketing’s more difficult target audiences (I do regularly applaud Fifi’s marketing savvy and she markets lingerie and all the activities that go with it).   But this is North Dakota, and being progressive in our advertising and marketing to a younger demographic doesn’t require dropping the campaign into the gutter.  Indeed, it is somewhat offensive to that demographic I would say – there is more to that age group than Friday and Saturday night hook-ups. 

So, thank you for the letter Ms. Coleman and for pulling back the advertisement, but note that even harder to stomach than the advertisement itself is your comment that you were “surprised” by the reaction.  Allow me to channel John Stossel in saying, “Gimme a break!” 😉

Day nine hundred and twenty-nine of the new forty – obla di obla da

Ms. C

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