Madison Avenue marketing of the fashion industry has a long history of pushing the envelope. Over the years, advertising executives have broached a lengthy list of sensitive subjects ranging from religion to anorexia. The latest example comes by way of an Australian eyewear company that chose the site of a former World War II concentration camp as a photo shoot location. To say the campaign didn’t go over too well is an understatement.
Valley Eyewear decided to feature numerous Spomenik sculptures in an ad campaign to promote their Black Zero collection. Among the selected sculptures was one commemorating the site of a Nazi-allied concentration camp in Croatia. A social media post featuring the photos stated that the shots were “filmed on location in croatia at one of world war two’s most historic and darkest locations [sic]”, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
About the Spomenik Sculptures
Photographing Spomenik sculptures is not a bad thing in and of itself. The sculptures are part of an endeavor to capture the history of the former Yugoslavia from the pre-World War II era through the early 90s. The monuments are a testament to the country’s commitment to eliminating fascism in that part of the world.
The problem with Valley Eyewear was that they crossed a line of good taste and respect. Shooting at the site of the former Jasenovac extermination camp belittles what actually happened there. Using the sculpture to link a brand of sunglasses to one of the “darkest locations” in Croatian history is to dishonor the memory of the 70,000 prisoners who died there.
Valley Eyewear officials claim they were unaware of the significance of the site when they took the shots. But the now deleted Facebook post describing the sculpture at Jasenovac says otherwise. The company has, to their credit, apologized profusely and canceled the ad campaign. That’s good. Still, there is a bigger issue at hand here.
Marketing Images Mean Things
That moment a marketing line was crossed by Valley Eyewear was a big one. To understand why it was so offensive to so many people, you have to understand the whole concept of marketing. Professional marketers have a single goal: to convince you to purchase something you would not otherwise purchase. Marketing is important to every industry on the planet, but critically important to eyewear.
Olympic Eyewear, a Utah designer and wholesale distributor of fashion sunglasses, explains that marketing in their industry is almost exclusively focused on image. Let’s face it; there isn’t much variation between lenses. If you have a dozen pairs of sunglasses offering the same UV protection and tint, it is quite likely all their lenses came from the same manufacturer. Therefore, designers have no other choice but to market their products based on image.
An image-based marketing campaign is fine as long as the images it presents are legal, ethical, and tasteful. But marketing executives have to be very careful. Why? Because marketing images mean things. A company that uses a Holocaust image to promote a product is not only belittling the events surrounding World War II, but it is also glamorizing them to an extent. That is not good.
The moment an eyewear company, or any company for that matter, crosses a marketing line is the same moment the rest of us have to stand up and say, “stop.” There are some images that should be off-limits for marketing purposes. That applies to sunglasses, clothing, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages, and every other product under the sun. Not everything is fair game in the fight for market share.