Dimetapp spot gets the cold shoulder

So what's the story (in 25 words or less)?...

So what’s the story (in 25 words or less)?

Whitehall-Robins yanks a television spot for cold remedy Dimetapp after the Retail Council of Canada raises a stink.

OK, why the fuss?

The spot, created by Toronto-based Young & Rubicam, shows what appears to be static surveillance-camera footage of a clothing store interior. Suddenly, a truck comes smashing through the storefront. A guy jumps out, grabs an armload of coats, tosses them in the back and drives off. A voice-over intones: ‘Dimetapp helped this man take care of his cold, and we are sorry.’

When Randy Scotland, the Retail Council’s vice-president of communications, saw the ad he was – to put this delicately – seriously pissed.

In his view, the depiction of a smash-and-grab robbery was offensive to Canadian retailers, who lose an estimated $2.5 million to theft every day. So he fired off an angry letter demanding the spot be yanked off the air with all haste.

‘I found it in poor taste,’ says Scotland, the former editor of Marketing Magazine and author of The Creative Edge. ‘I was concerned about the possibility of copycats, and I thought that as a respected member of the advertising community, they should certainly be abreast of our concerns on this issue – including [the concerns of] retailers who sell Dimetapp, by the way.’

Whitehall-Robins didn’t put up much of a fight. They promptly suspended the ad, and proceeded to consult with some retailers. When it became clear that a few did indeed share the Council’s concern, they killed the spot altogether.

‘We felt it was the appropriate thing to do under the circumstances,’ says Karla Minello, category manager for cough and cold with Mississauga, Ont.-based Whitehall-Robins.

So what the heck were the folks at Whitehall-Robins and Young & Rubicam thinking? Didn’t they realize the spot would get somebody up in arms? Or was that the whole point?

Sure, everyone expected a few complaints, says Norm Melamed, senior vice-president, director of client services at Y&R. But not this kind of backlash.

The spot was the first in a series of three playing on the current reality television fad. (The second shows a couple making out furiously in an elevator.) The intent is to show that Dimetapp will take care of your cold symptoms and let you get back to whatever you’d be doing otherwise.

Interestingly, a B.C. company called Tree Brewing ran a similar spot last year, featuring security-cam footage of a robbery in progress. It, too, was axed because of complaints. The thing is, Tree – a small advertiser with a modest media budget – was actually hoping to stir up a tempest. Free publicity, right?

That’s not the case with the Dimetapp spot, Melamed insists. The ad was supposed to be controversial enough to cut through the TV clutter, but not controversial enough to elicit howls of protest. Whitehall-Robins is a large, well-respected company, he says – they don’t subscribe to the view that all publicity is good publicity.

‘We wanted a different kind of media attention. We wanted attention for the novelty of the campaign. We had no intent to capitalize on the negative side of it.’

Melamed says the agency is none too pleased with the Retail Council’s attack – mainly because it started with a single member of the executive, rather than mass protest on the part of the rank and file. It was a humorous ad, he says, and Scotland’s letter ignored that intent.

Well, there’s a point. These Retail Council guys are supposed to know something about marketing, right? Can’t they tell the difference between a funny commercial and a call for anarchy?

Sorry, Randy Scotland’s not buying that line, thank you very much.

‘You try telling a traumatized store owner or customer or employee who’s been a [robbery] victim: ‘Hey have a sense of humour,” he snaps. ‘I don’t think so.’