NEW YORK, NY –
In the wake of controversy over a Superbowl ad for Dodge trucks that used a Martin Luther King Jr. speech as its soundtrack, Chevrolet decided this week against airing a new commercial for their Silverado line of pickups featuring the voice of Mahatma Gandhi exhorting the people of India to resist British Rule.
The advertisement, which featured footage of the leader of India’s drive for independence superimposed over the newest Silverado truck in a desert raised the ire of focus groups. People from India, in particular, complained vehemently of the insensitivity to their country’s national hero.
Ad Agency Admits It Was A Stretch
“Yeah, we liked the sound of his words, but I have to admit some of it didn’t make a lot of sense,” admitted Copywriter Bryan Bannigans. “Like the line ‘The power, when it comes, will belong to the people of India’. I guess we thought that showing covered wagons would kind of relate if you think about Native American Indians. But, looking back, it was definitely a reach.”
Another sore spot for Indians who viewed the commercial was the reference to owners of Chevy trucks as “outcasts”.
“The word ‘outcasts’ sounded cool the way Gandhi said it – kind of like Outkast from the hip hop group in the 1990s,” said the Art Director on the spot, Michael Pardenon. “But man did we catch an earful on that one from some people from New Dehli – apparently that was really insensitive and being an outcast in India is not cool at all.”
Carrying A Shot Gun
But of all the reactions to the commercial, the one that really stuck out for the advertising team was over the use of a body double placing a shot gun into the gun rack of one of the trucks as it drove past a dead deer.
“I actually got a little nervous for my safety when that scene came up. People sort of leapt out of their seats and suddenly started yelling,” said Mr. Bannigans. “There is a two-way mirror in the focus group rooms, and the participants can’t see you from the conference room. But there was one gentleman who I swear was staring right at me as he pounded on the window. I think that was when we decided we’d better pull the spot.”
Sticking With What You Know
Luckily, the ad agency had prepared some alternate scripts that centered around important figures from American history. “We’ve learned our lesson and will stick strictly with what we know from here on out,” said Mr. Bannigans.
“There was a great script with Malcolm X that the client really liked,” Mr. Pardenon said. “In one of his speeches he talks about ‘Instead of us airing our differences in public, we have to realize we’re all the same family. And when you have a family squabble, you don’t get out on the sidewalk. If you do, everybody calls you uncouth, unrefined, uncivilized, savage.’ We felt that really spoke to people needing a truck to drive around in. It’s pretty uplifting, at least the parts I’ve read of it.”
“Yeah, he was kind of a polarizing figure, but in a good way,” related Mr. Bannigans. “I’m about halfway thru the movie now, and it seems perfect for Silverado. We’ve even discussed trying to get Denzel Washington to play Malcolm X with the client – if we can’t get Malcolm to sign on. And there’s talk of licensing a Snoop Dogg track, too.”
Shooting of the replacement commercial will begin in Detroit next week outside the former Nation of Islam Temple Number One where Malcolm X was a minister, with a goal of hopefully getting to air during the winter Olympics.
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