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Beware of the dog. Is WKD's Christmas campaign really unacceptable?

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by Magnus Shaw.


At this time of generosity and giving, who could resist the wide-eyed pleading of a little doggie, hungry for a simple bone? Well, alcopop brand WKD think their customers would quite happily ignore Fido if there was a blue drink in it.


This is the proposition behind a seasonal poster campaign for the colourful booze. Or at least it was. Bowing to complaints and pressure, WKD have withdrawn the posters.

We're suckers for animal stuff, aren't we? For instance, compare the uproar over the capture and roasting of a rat on 'I'm A Celebrity ...' with the general indifference to human suffering in Syria. I make no moral judgement here - I genuinely care about animal welfare too . I'd simply point out that any advertiser playing fast and loose with the notion of pet cruelty is on very thin ice. That said, I'm pretty sure that's exactly where WKD wanted to be.

WKD has always positioned itself as the drink of choice for the mischievous male, the joker in the pack, the fella who lives for naughty pranks and silly japes. Or, as some would call him 'the annoying twonk'. It has obviously been a successful pitch as numerous campaigns have run using the 'Have You Got 

A WKD Side?' strapline. Thisexecution is the most recent. So, I'd be most surprised if this outraged reaction wasn't anticipated, or even intended.

Naturally, WKD are claiming to be as innocent as the canine on their poster. Here's the official line:

"WKD is famous for having a WKD side, and a reputation for looking at everyday life with a twist. Our latest campaign is not meant to offend in any way, true to the brand, we are just having a little bit of fun and it's meant to be very much tongue-in-cheek - a poke at WKD rather than animal causes."

Notice how they manage to squeeze the brand moto into the statement! But to an extent, they're right. The work is so obviously a spoof (the dog's eyes have been intentionally magnified, for example), one would have to be rather dim to think WKD were actually attempting to divert donations from charities to their coffers. They are, however, being somewhat disingenuous in their claim to be simply portraying 'life with a twist'. What they were actually doing was stirring up a bit of noise, causing a bit of a stir, the better to plug their neon booze. Complaints, far from being unwelcome, are part of that strategy. After all, if your intention is to appear 'wicked', then controversy is your friend.

In fairness to the RSPCA, their response has been admirably restrained:

"While it is obvious that the WKD brand relies on tongue-in-cheek advertising, this particular campaign does a disservice to the thousands of animals that are abandoned across the country every year and are in desperate need of a new home."

The charity is clearly concerned this campaign had a detrimental effect on their work. If this was the case then the work was irresponsible. But I find it hard to believe a single person has chosen to neck an alcopop instead of making an annual donation to charity because of this ad.

Sadly, in a country which professes to love its animals, thousands of unwanted creatures are seeking homes at this very moment, and I would be the first to decry WKD if they were making the situation worse. I just don't think they are. In truth, the brand is guilty of little more than a practical joke at the expense of the very people bemoaning the poster. This isn't a particularly witty or amusing campaign but neither is it an assault on charities or vulnerable animals.

Of course, to ensure its messages don't have negative side-effects, it's always necessary to monitor advertising. At the same time, those rushing to make complaints would do well to pause and consider whether they are missing an element of humour, satire or straightforward mischief making. Because sometimes righteous objection is as much part of a campaign as the work itself.

Magnus Shaw is a copywriter, blogger and consultant.
www.magnusshaw.co.uk

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