The New Ambiguity: You Can't Have it Both Ways

In spite of all the new ability to measure. digital media also present new challenges in figuring out what works. This thought gelled for me during the Naked Media discussion with Erin Byrne and Ben Ezrick, both leading digital strategists, he for Ogilvy, she for Burson-Marsteller. We watched the Bronze Lion-winning but fake JC Penney ad that has finally been removed from YouTube after getting hundreds of thousands of views. The commercial was since withdrawn from the awards, apparently.

The video shows two teenagers "Speed Dressing," timing themselves as they put on their clothes after undressing to "get away with it" in the girl's basement -- a message a Penney marketing manager has said the company would never condone. But the company has also gotten a lot of notice for the ad, which, as The Wall Street Journal points out , may curry favor with more urban teens, especially on the coasts. So, for a mass brand like Penney, they condemn the ad. But they, perhaps, reap the benefits of the branding in a measurable way -- hundreds of thousand saw the video before it was pulled, and it's now available on other sites. Ezrick, in the Naked Media segment, points out that neither Penney nor its ad agency, Saatchi and Saatchi, have yet completely explained how the ad got to be entered in the Cannes awards contest, nor exactly how people affiliated with them were involved in producing the video.

Both Ezrick and Byrne point out that Penney can't have it both ways: If they genuinely don't condone the video, they need to investigate and reveal how it came to be to the best of their knowledge. If they had something to do with it, they must say so, and, if need be, apologize honestly for any discomfort or harm they may have caused. But what they can't do is reap the benefits of the video going viral and also be upset while they gain brand awareness. You also can't, in a digital age, segment audiences as you could in a previous era, showing one ad to the coasts, say, and another to "Middle America." Perhaps digital media means everything is outed, eventually. And that means we have to be more honest, or at least more consistent.

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