Pattern Forming: Pepsi, GM Latest Marketers to Yank Ads Deemed Offensive By Consumers

Who is To Blame for the Lack of Oversight?

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Marketers are yanking ads nearly as fast as they are making them.

PepsiCo on Wednesday was criticized for an online spot for Mountain Dew that some consumers charged was racist and misogynistic. The 60-second ad -- which the beverage maker has since removed from the web and apologized for -- was made by the rapper known as Tyler the Creator, depicted a white female asked by a police officer to pick out a perpetrator from a lineup of black men and a goat.

Meanwhile General Motors became the latest carmaker caught in an ad flap. The company, seeking to boost China sales 75% by 2015, apologized for a Chevrolet ad that included a song referring to "the land of Fu Manchu" where all of the girls sing "ching, ching, chop-suey," which one Chinese newspaper called racist.

"Our intent was not to offend anyone and we're deeply sorry if anyone was offended," Ryndee Carney, a Detroit-based GM spokeswoman, said in a telephone interview. "We're reviewing our advertising approval processes to make sure this doesn't happen again."

Yet, it seems like this very thing is happening quite a lot these days. Big marketers are getting caught up in ad scandals and it there seems to be little accountability or oversight when the spots get pulled.

The English-language ad for the Chevrolet Trax sport- utility vehicle featured a 1920s motif and included music from Austrian performer and disc jockey Parov Stelar, she said. The South China Morning Post earlier reported on the ad, using the word "racist" in a headline.

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GM wants to expand sales in China and plans to spend $11 billion through 2016 on new plants and products in the country. GM is targeting 5 million deliveries in China by 2015. Sales of GM and its Chinese joint ventures increased 11 percent to a record 2.84 million last year. The company already sells more vehicles in China than its home market.

The latest Chevy ad never appeared in China, Ms. Carney said. It began running in Canada on March 4 and was also available online through Chevrolet Europe websites, she said. GM pulled the ad and replaced it with a revised version that doesn't include the lyrics and began airing in Canada on April 23, she said. The online version in Europe is being pulled down, she said. GM ceased the ads after receiving a complaint, she said.

This episode is one of several marketing blunders prompting public apologies by automakers this year that calls into question where the blame should lie given offensive ads are routinely making their way out into the world. After all, it amounts to a massive amount of time and money wasted -- not to mention bad publicity. And it's clear that what happens in one country, thanks to social media, no longer stays in one country. Negative press spreads like wildfire across timezones and languages.

Ford Motor Co. in March apologized for ads in India, including a version depicting former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi with three tied-up and gagged young women. The ads weren't requested by Ford or intended for paid publication, WPP's JWT India unit said in March. The unit fired two employees.

Hyundai Motor Co. , based in Seoul, and a dealer for GM's Buick brand apologized for posting on Chinese social media while alluding to an outcry over the murder of a 2-month-old baby. Hyundai also apologized for a promotional video posted on Google Inc.'s YouTube depicting a man trying to kill himself in his vehicle.

~Bloomberg News with contributions from Advertising Age

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