Dorothy Crenshaw April 26, 2010 | 10:26:28

Banned Ads Are A Robust PR Opportunity

It played out like a publicity stunt. Not one as blatant as the annual Super Bowl banned-ad PR-fest. But, at first it seemed a little, well, overblown. The sexy Lane Bryant lingerie commercial featuring curvy model Ashley Graham was rejected by both ABC and Fox for showing “too much cleavage” and being therefore too risque for the family hour. The PR brouhaha and the networks’ response to it gave a new irony to the term “boob tube.”

Seizing the opportunity, Lane Bryant posted a blog entry that accused the networks of having a – you guessed it –  double standard when it comes to how much skin is too much. After all, those skinny Victoria’s Secret models are all over evening  TV, even before primetime. Speaking directly to its customers, the retailer asked why ABC and Fox should “make the decision to define beauty for you.” It even used the “c” word – censorship.

Viewers, bloggers, and media weighed in and piled on. The result? A plus-sized PR win for Lane Bryant and its new Cacique line.  And the sultry ad’s already, uh, racked up over 200,000 views on YouTube.

What I love about this situation is how deftly Lane Bryant took a fat PR opportunity and made it even larger. First, they used social media to mobilize their female customer base and shape the situation as a cultural issue, revealing a bias against women with curves. The initial post positioned Lane Bryant as an advocate for its customers, and the contrast with Victoria Secret was inspired. (Since both are owned by Limited Brands, it’s a win-win.)

It was also a nice move to allow Ashley Graham, who appeared in the spot, to do press interviews. As a gorgeous, highly paid, and successful model, she has more media appeal than a corporate spokesperson. Yet, her success doesn’t undermine her credibility. She’s still a full-figured woman, and her words speak as well as her other “assets,” as she calls them.

The networks’ response also tells you something about who’s PR savvy. ABC issued a defensive and humorless statement accusing Lane Bryant of seeking publicity, and denying that it was treated any differently from any other advertiser. But, Fox, no PR slouch, seemed to realize it was losing middle America. It’s promised to air the uncut ad during this week’s American Idol. Stay tuned.

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