“Gay Meat”: Who owns the brand?

maredoMaredo, Germany’s  largest steak house chain, was forced to publicly “apologise” this week for an allegedly homophobic advert, dating back several years – and which Maredo never used – or in fact (directly) commissioned . The controversy was caused by an advert created in 2008 as part of a competition initiated by Maredo. The advertisement showed a steak with the words “tofu is gay meat” (an image is available here), which was shown as part of an exhibition of especially creative advertising concepts in 2009. Unfortunately, the advert went viral earlier this month – and even though it was never used, or, as Maredo points out comissioned by the brand, the advert has created a backslash against the steak house chain in the social media world. Maredo has swiftly distanced itself from the advertising (and passed the blame to the agency that created the advert). However, if you do a twitter search on Maredo, there is still a substantial amount of negative tweeting going on about Maredo. The case is interesting as using competitions has become an increasingly common way of sourcing creative ideas: While in this case the advertisement was made by an established agency – in many cases, companies try to crowd-source creative ideas for their campaigns. From Peperami (see the ad here), to Dorito, from MasterCard to Camel Cigarettes – big brands have crowd-sourced campaigns. Of course, so far companies (still) had the last say in what made it to the finals – but, did they have a say what happened to the artworks after? Take a look at YouTube to see just how many advert spoofs are available. And A LOT of them are definitely not exactly for the faint hearted. Of course, most are recognisable as not the real thing – but it opens the question: who owns the brand? Who creates the brand values? Marketers would love to think it is them who can create brand images in the consumers mind – but then how come people confused the Maredo advert, and assumed it was a “real advert”? Could it be that the real lesson from the “Tofugate” (as it was dubbed in German) is, that the brand is made by the consumers – and what consumers associate as authentic is the brand message – no matter what brand owners think? After all, why don’t consumers think that most of the “priceless” ads on YouTube are authentic when they claim that sexual favours are priceless – but so many consumers assumed that “Tofu is Gay Meat” was a real slogan?

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