Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Corporate sponsored terrorism and stalking from Toyota

Trigger warning.

So, last year in the UK, Toyota and ad firm Saatch & Saatchi started this really clever ad campaign … of terror! Here’s the campaign kicking it off:

Before we even get to the real and horrific impact of this incredibly ill-considered campaign, let’s take a look at how the maniacs are sexualized and racialized.

The “maniacs” (nice ableism!) are mostly white and male. This means that the agents of terror in this situation are the ones with societal power to flex and scare their victims. Many of the corporate stalkers are able to claim the right to terrorize potential customers because of their skin and maleness.

However, while most of the terrorists (I like that better!) have socially normative bodies, some are othered, through their dress or age or race. An old man and a long-haired goth are two of the prospective white male stalkers, and both are subtly coded as ridiculous in their menace. The goth has markings on his face, and the old man is made to look foolish by brandishing nun chucks. An Asian woman in a colorful outfit that I believe is supposed to look like Harajuku is also shown, caricatured by a heavy accent and a crazy dance. There’s also an elegantly dressed black man - apparently dressing nice and being black (or old) is enough to make you an object of ridicule, right alongside a man in a bear suit.

These operations of inequity and othering serve as markers that this should be read as fun. I guess that gives the ad company an out to claim that this is just a wacky, ad campaign – because ridiculous Asian women/old men/dapper black men/Goths? They could never be seen as a realistic threat or symbol of aggression.

So, let’s move on to the actual human cost of this:
Last year, Amber Duick received a series of nine e-mails from a fictitious character dreamed up by the campaign (complete with a MySpace page). The character told Amber he was coming to stay at her house to avoid the cops, and even sent her a motel bill for $78.92. According to AdAge, Duick was so frightened that she slept with a machete and mace near her bed.

The last email Duick received included a video that notified her how she had been fooled, and explained that this was an effort to market the Matrix. The campaign, which targeted thousands of consumers, invited people to nominate their friends to be victims of the prank, which is how consumers' personal information was acquired.
As an anxious woman, this isn’t funny. My partner leaves town sometimes, and I often go to bed terrified on even the safest of nights. Were I the subject of this? I would call the cops and take my butt and my cats to someone else’s house. I would FLIP. I would also sue.

My theory is that Toyota saw the impact of “viral marketing” and wanted to do something similar, except extreme and violent. Its creating anticipation about a product in a personal, one-on-one way. Except instead of asking schmucks to buy you a Grey Goose vodka or posting about Worms Armageddon on a videogame forum, they’re…threatening your personal safety.


Clearly, this isn’t an ad campaign – this is stalking and terrorism with corporate funding. And I seriously doubt Saatchi made any effort to check out whether their victims were perhaps being stalked by the “friend” who suggested them.
What would make Toyota, or anyone else, think this would appeal more to actual friends than to people who want to harass the targets of the campaign? Toyota essentially offered to be the middle-man for stalkers, bullies, and other assorted assholes. There's no reason to believe that no one took them up on such a generous offer. (from Shakesville)
The site for this seems to show more men than women being targeted. But looking at it comprehensively, I just bet that women were disproportionately the target of these attacks.

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