Bic still facing complaints after pulling pen ad

Agency facing client ire after trying to pull 'condemned' ad

Agency facing client ire after trying to pull ‘condemned’ ad

Bic Canada moved quickly to pull a television spot on Tuesday after a slew of consumer complaints, but is still hearing from consumers who say they’ve since see it run on TV.


Within hours of its first airing, Bic received e-mails claiming the ad was insensitive to Asians. Linda Kwong, a spokesperson for the brand, said consumers found the ad racist. She shared one e-mail with Marketing that she said summarizes the complaints.

“I found this commercial to be absolutely distasteful,” the e-mail reads. “Given the propensity of death penalties in some Asian countries the idea that Bic would use this theme as a joke is outrageous.  I encourage you to immediately cancel the airing of this commercial.”

In the ad, an Asian actor plays a dictator sentencing prisoners. When his pen runs dry, he stops writing “pardoned” and uses a “condemned” stamp instead.

Instead of quietly pulling the ads, Bic issued a public apology through a newly created Twitter account and published a press release on Canadian news wires. Kwong said Bic wanted to communicate to consumers that it recognized its mistake, noting the company assumed there were many offended consumers who did not contact it.

Bic is hoping to make up for lost goodwill through direct e-mails to viewers and an open dialogue in the press. It issued a statement in French even though the ad did not run in French Canada. “Even if if consumers hadn’t seen [the ad], we wanted them to hear the apology,” Kwong said. “We realized we’d made a serious mistake. We were very concerned. We knew we had to take action immediately and apologize.”

Bic made the decision to pull the ad at around 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday. Kwong said that, by Thursday, it was assured by its agency, Crispin Porter + Bogusky Toronto (which handled the media as well as the creative), that the ad had been pulled from all markets.

However, Kwong said Bic received two additional complaints on Friday from consumers who said they’d seen the ad Thursday night.

She holds the agency accountable. “We are very angry with the agency. We understand it’s a process, but we were reassured [the ad] was getting pulled quickly,” she said.

“It is completely unacceptable for the agency to be so ineffective at withdrawing the ad,” she said, adding, “We’re waiting for them to explain themselves and tell us the ad is done.”

CP+B Toronto president Subtej Nijjar told Marketing that the agency’s “full attention went to pulling the spot as soon as we were asked to do so. Given the lag in station logs, a handful of spots did air after taking that action, however.”

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