Sex no longer sells. Just ask “Carl Hardee, Sr.” What’s a hard-up brand to do these days? Embrace sweet death. Bring out your dead (and dying) and throw them on the 2017 advertising corpse-wagon!

Last week, McDonald’s pulled a “dead dad” British advert that outraged many mainstream critics who called it “creepy” and “griefsploitation” because it used child bereavement to sell fish sandwiches. Exploiting emotions to sell things we don’t need? How dare brands be so crass.

Question: Where’s the outrage over the new VW “America” ad where we actually “see” the dead man (well, his ashes in an urn) as everybody tears up over the (fake) death? Which is worse: exploiting one British child’s bereavement to sell a sandwich or exploiting an entire American family’s bereavement to sell an (expensive German) car?

There is no dead man in that receptacle. Image via YouTube.

As always, it comes down to creative execution and production. The McDonald’s ad (by Leo Burnett, London): awkwardly written, clunky product intro. The VW ad (by Deutsch USA): beautifully storyboarded and filmed, and scored with an emotions-triggering sappy-ass song. I’d argue that the McDonald’s spot is the less exploitative and “realer” of the two ads.

But the Grim Reaper has been killing it, literally and figuratively, in several 2017 ads. For instance:

Death via Chocolate (Finland)

Handsome Finnish man eating a piece of chocolate reminisces about (apparently recently) dead wife. Smiles slightly. Breaks off and eats another piece of chocolate. Fazer chocolate is “Finland’s most loved chocolate,” according to the press note. If you know a Finn and they have a death in the family, don’t send flowers, send Fazer. They’ll probably smile slightly, too. Outrage to come, apparently.

The Grim Reaper Has A Satellite Dish (USA)

“Shouldn’t have touched him. He’s not waking up.”

Bam! Dead commuter. A mummy, mad scientist, werewolf, and Death walk into an Amtrak car … and talk about their kids and how evil satellite dishes are in this newish Spectrum (formally known as Time Warner Cable, a monstrously evil company) commercial. At the 48-second mark, the Reaper mistakenly touches the older man sleeping next to him yet doesn’t seem one bit remorseful. It’s good to be Death. Agency: Something Different, Brooklyn.

The Most Depressing Gatorade Ad Ever (USA)

L.A. director Robert Nyerges shot this “Win From Within” spec Gatorade Mother’s Day spot in honor of his own mother who died from pulmonary hypertension about 10 years ago, according to the press note. It’s well-shot and well-acted, but Gatorade ain’t gonna touch an ad featuring a heart disease death.

Everybody Dies, Only A Few Profit Off Of It (Argentina)

Last week, JWT Argentina released this spot for Económico, the economics journal of Clarín, the country’s leading newspaper. I only found one translated version of the ad (here), but the comedic set-up is the old hackneyed “reading of a will.” Everybody somehow dies except for the young man with headphones. Translated punch line: “Only a few improve their economy by accident. The rest of us read Económico.”

Death Is The New Black (Dubai)

Lastly, in January, Middle Eastern clothing retailer Centrepoint (agency: Impact BBDO, Dubai) released this video, “Lies,” where a well-dressed woman is about to be killed by a falling burning piano. Punch line: “When life throws you a piano, the only thing you can do is look good.” Or maybe, jump out of the way. Last August, Centrepoint launched this campaign with “Sabotage,” where a spiffily attired young couple are killed by a train. Everybody in the ads smiles as they’re about to die — ignore that their body and clothes are going to be destroyed.

Like sex, death seemingly can sell anything: contacts, auto insurance, backpacks, bottled water, even hair tonic. Maybe it’s time for you to consider embracing death for your brand?

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