Does Ad With Fake 911 Call Offend?

In this down economy, saving money wherever we can is key. K&G Fashion Superstore launched a TV, radio, outdoor and guerilla campaign promoting its affordable prices compared to those found in high-priced department stores.

The campaign uses a new tagline, "Fashion without the victim," offering consumers brand name clothes at reasonable prices.

One of the TV ads in the campaign, created by DeVito/Verdi, has been banned in numerous markets for its strong resemblance to an actual 911 tape.

The ad, seen here, begins with a woman calling 911, to report being robbed. The woman describes the robber as a man wearing a suit, telling the dispatcher, "He took my money and all I got was this dress."

The operator figures out the woman overpaid and asks, "Well, what do you want us to do about it," and the ad ends with K&G's logo and URL.

Another TV ad is less controversial, showing a woman wondering out loud if she should buy the dress she tried on. A resounding yes is given by the handful of men in the waiting room, who beat her boyfriend to the answer.  Watch the ad here.

TV stations in Philadelphia, Chicago, Baton Rouge, Seattle and Birmingham rejected the 911 ad. Within the first five seconds, it's pretty clear that the ad is a fake 911 call. I watched it a handful of times and failed to find it offensive. I would certainly steer clear of running the ad during newscasts, however.

Many will describe the ad in poor taste, but it's memorable; does poor taste trump brand recall?

DeVito/Verdi is no stranger to banned ads; last year two trolley ads it created for Legal Sea Foods were considered offensive to conductors and subsequently removed. Read last year's column here to see the offending ads and what Legal Sea Foods did following the ad ban.

7 comments about "Does Ad With Fake 911 Call Offend?".
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  1. Mickey Lonchar from Quisenberry, April 13, 2009 at 4:52 p.m.

    Whoa. This is a classic example of the "30% Rule" I wrote about a few weeks ago ( This idea that some entity, whether a broadcaster or whomever, takes it upon themselves to censor something just because they fear it might be misinterpreted totally flies in the face of the transparency demanded by today's consumer. Let the market decide (and critique) for themselves.

  2. Langston Richardson from Cisco, April 13, 2009 at 4:56 p.m.

    The creative side of me likes the edge being pushed... the part of me that lives in society seems to think there can be creative ways to introduce branding in ways that make our industry seem arrogant and out of touch with what people care.

  3. Catherine Mann from Media Help! llc, April 13, 2009 at 5:16 p.m.

    What does this article have to do with creative media buying? Now a creative media buy would have them buying the sides of milk cartons or walls or even COPS. I am sure you can think of some more....

  4. Ken Kohl from DIRECTV Sports Networks, April 13, 2009 at 5:16 p.m.

    If poor taste were the test of ad acceptability radio and TV would be filling breaks with PSAs. Amy suggests you can tell in the first five seconds that this is a fake ad in my opinion it was more like 20 seconds. The spot has, in my opinion, an all too real feel. And while you, Amy may refrain from running it in newscasts my guess is agency will dictate only newscasts.

    The TV stations that rejected the ad undoubtedly were resonating with the once enforceable NAB code that banned simulated news, newscasts even the use of horns honking and sirens in commercial content. While our audiences have become much more sophisticated and media savvy than previous generations there is so much human tragedy in our lives today, so many real victims suffering at the hands of real evil doers that it just seems to me we owe a moral obligation to continue to separate fact from fiction –real from simulated-in our advertising.

  5. John Vickary from l'Attitude Business Development, April 13, 2009 at 5:59 p.m.

    However it does run the risk if trivialising the emergency number.
    Here in Australia there is a plethora of anecdotal stories relating how our own emergency number is misused - Help, I need a plumber to fix a leaking tap (faucet); Help I've run out of wine at my dinner party etc etc - and it seems that some people's "emergency" isn't quite what the service was set up for.
    It's such people that the ad will validate their belief that their "emergency" warrants making the call.
    And it's for that reason that the ad should be banned - or at least aired with a very strong disclaimer.

  6. Neil Binkley, April 14, 2009 at 10:19 a.m.

    I've seen these ads as part of my regular tv watching, and I thought they were funny, a little distasteful, but not offensive (and I agree with the first comment that it could trivialize the 9-1-1 call). But I would rather the consumer decide if it's distasteful. I guess it's the fine line between memorable and trashy.

    We recently created a holiday self-promo print mailer that had a similar reaction, although we were marketing to creative B2B clients, who mostly have a higher threshold for dark humor. You can decide for yourself:

  7. Dave Kohl from First In Promotions, April 14, 2009 at 2:27 p.m.

    You and I can tell a "fake" emergency within the first few seconds but unfortunately a lot of people out there can't. Think about the MULTIPLE stories of late about people calling 911 over an order from a fast food restaurant. THEN - read this column again.

    People may or may not remember the advertised brand, but they are getting the idea that an "emergency" call can be about almost anything besides a real emergency.

    I would rather know that if I or someone around me had an emergency or accident that I would be able to instantly get through to a trained specialist and not have that person have to determine if it is a joke.

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