The pitch: let’s use an image of a 14 year old girl being shot by the Taliban to sell our mattress brand. Yeah… sounds like a great idea!
Advertising company Oligvy and Mather’s India branch decided to use Malala Yousafzai’s likeness and personal plight to sell Kurl-on mattresses.
Malala is an international heroine whose work as an education activist began when she was a just pre-teen. She started writing an anonymous blog for the BBC, depicting the life of a schoolgirl under the Taliban’s rule and spoke to the right of every child to an education. For her activism, Malala received Pakistan’s first National Peace Award for Youth.
However, her activism also made her a target. The Taliban shot Malala in the head in 2012 and she spent days comatose and in critical condition. Her indomitable spirit pulled through against all odds, no thanks to a Kurl-on mattress, and she made a full recovery.
What right does a mattress company have to exploit her story and image? It seems unfathomable that a group of adults would think that it is okay to basically say “our mattresses are so good that after taking a nap in them you can bounce back from anything—even being shot in the head by the Taliban!” By making her plight into a cartoon and pairing it with the kitschy phrase “bounce back”, Ogilvy only functions in trivializing the horrible reality.
Ogilvy has officially apologized for the ad, saying it is "contrary to the beliefs and professional standards of Ogilvy & Mather and our clients.”
Oligvy India should try to come out of the negative backlash by supporting Malala’s cause and working to make sure that, at the very least, all of the employees who make Kurl-on mattresses can afford education for their children.
In addition to using Malala’s likeness, Oligvy India also used renderings of Steve Jobs and Mahatma Gandhi in their ad campaign:
Images courtesy of Adweek