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WTF was Mac’s thinking?

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Last week I wandered into a Mac’s convenience store in search of a sugar fix. While digging for some Sour Keys that weren’t so stale they felt like jagged rocks, a little boy no more than 7 years old came up to the Froster machine with his dad. He seemed to be especially captivated but I couldn’t figure out what was so exciting, so I just assumed all little kids are generally excited by sugary goodness in all forms, especially Slushees on a hot day. Then I remembered where I was, Mac’s. Oh yeah! That place with all the grotesque and controversial advertising for their annual new Slushee flavour, the latest being dubbed, WTF.

I know what WTF stands for!” the kid announced proudly,
What? asked his dad. Big mistake, sometimes you just shouldn’t challenge 7 year olds.
It stands for what the fuck!

The jaws of soccer moms everywhere hit the floor when Mac’s unveiled their new Froster campaign, one that corrupts their innocent children with its foul language and disturbing images. But really, as the kid said himself, I know what WTF stands for. The campaign for the new flavour didn’t teach him the word, it didn’t reveal to him the meaning behind this secret acronym, it just put it out there in an attempt to get his attention, and guess what flavour he picked.

Apparently that little go-getter wasn’t the only one who noticed. The campaign of online videos have been viewed over 200,000 times on YouTube alone, and Froster sales are already double the numbers from last year. In response to the tidal wave of complaints from irate parents, a representative from Mac’s explained that WTF doesn’t mean anything vulgar (they would never do that), it merely stands for What The Flavour? Of course it does! That’s what everybody says when they taste something new and exciting. I wonder how all these silly kids missed that and ended up with their minds in the gutter? Hmm, I think I may know. Worst. Cover up. Ever.

So is it really right to speak to kids in these not-so-hidden codes? Probably not. Will that stop marketers from doing so if it means creating stir and getting attention? Definitely not! These codes have become a part of everyday modern language for a certain demographic. Speaking in acronyms and other online codes provide a way for kids to maintain some privacy in their conversations, and to aid in filtering what their parents take from overhearing their dialogue. It’s only a matter of time before we see OMG and LOL in Webster’s.

I think the WTF™ ads certainly did create a stir, but was it with the desired audience? Teens and kids are becoming so immune to this kind of shock, gross-out advertising, marketers have to keep testing boundaries to see if they can get a reaction. The bigger reaction usually comes from the pissed off people outside the target market. Those who make it a big deal are only drawing more attention to it, and those who haven’t seen it yet will hear about it and want to know what the big deal is!

Perhaps this campaign is just really, really smart. Maybe kids appreciate a product that feels like it’s a part of an exclusive vernacular that they’re also a part of. It speaks to them on eye level in a let’s all get together and slip one by the parents kind of way. It’s like being a member of a secret club, who doesn’t want that? When kids are entering that prepubescent rebellious stage, they want to piss off their parents, so why wouldn’t they buy into a product with an image or message that does the same?

It gets to a point where it doesn’t even really matter anymore whether this image or message is even still relevant to the product itself. It’s a slushee! It’s cool, refreshing, satisfying and sweet. When putting an image with a little shock value alongside it, how does that impact the brand, or does it at all? Are we supposed to think that because of this campaign Mac’s Frosters are edgy, and 7-11 Slurpees are lame”? Despite that they’re essentially the exact same thing, crushed ice and syrup in a cup that holds twice our weights worth of liquid.

Shock marketing will always be around to accommodate our need to complain about stuff, and therefore will always be pushing the next boundaries. Eventually, I think they’ll run out of ideas and they’ll have to backtrack by shocking us with docility, a little Leave it to Beaver” action to throw everyone for a loop. Then maybe the ads will be relevant to the product, Mmm, this Slushee sure is swell, how about THAT for a headline! It’s simple, honest, and it will leave people thinking, WTF?

Watch the commercials and see “WTF” I mean.

Kate Bowen More posts by Kate Bowen