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05.03.2021

Taboos in Armenian Advertising

“Forbidden fruit is always the sweetest”, affirm advertising specialists and cross their fingers waiting for the approval of an idea. As a result, they remove a few kissing episodes and a couple of expressions for safety. The brand owner has fears, and oh god, they may be justified.

That’s a classic case in advertising: a controversial idea is rejected. And the forbidden fruit gets sweeter and remains forbidden. There are prohibitions, the date of which is as old as the world itself but hasn’t expired yet. These prohibitions are called taboo.

Taboo prohibits an action based on the belief that such behavior is either too sacred and consecrated or too dangerous and accursed for ordinary individuals to undertake. The impact of a taboo depends on the number of society members who devote it. And the uniqueness of it depends on its cultural experience: where it comes from and develops. It means that taboo differs from society to society. Based on that, “don’t”-s in Armenia and Greenland are different. Taboos have an impact on various fields of our life. The advertising field is not an exception.

According to that tradition, a girl’s family brings red apples to her after marriage as a symbol of her virginity.

The most famous ad taboos are mainly based on sex, women, and religion. In the case of sex, everything is clear. Brands either try to bypass it or refer to it in such a way that it would be preferable to bypass. Every second project with a sexual context, whether it is an ad or not, becomes a subject of severe criticism. Seeing this wave of criticism, brand owners try to position their brands in a safe zone. Let’s see the example of one of the most criticized projects in Armenia. It’s called “Red Apples”. The movie speaks about an old Armenian tradition called red apple. According to that tradition, a girl’s family brings red apples to her after marriage as a symbol of her virginity.

They say you can forever watch how snow falls, fire burns, and traditionalism supporters fight on Facebook.

You’ll not find many ordinary kissing episodes in advertisements. Here is the same problem: customer fears. In 2020, within the “Bank it your way” campaign project, a commercial was released. In one of the episodes of that commercial, a man and a lady kiss in an elevator. The wave of criticism was manageable. The reason for it is the script. The kiss was just an episode; there was no sexual context in the script. As a result, intrigue was accepted, everyone was calm.

The other target of taboo is women. Those types of taboos are more gender-based. Let’s remember old and classic patriarchy and capitalism. Now, it’s widely known that advertising changes from a monologue to a dialogue between the brand and its followers. What one can see on screen should be as close to our reality as possible. That’s what the 21st century’s society demands from the media.

And if we are honest, it’ll be fair to accept that an Armenian woman, like an Armenian man, uses both alcohol and cigarettes.

Getting back to Armenia, let’s remember the image of women in all possible ads. Gyumri Beer communication case is an excellent example of whether the average Armenian citizen is ready to accept an Armenian woman’s preferences. The focus of the criticism we faced was around well-known “woman and wine.” But this time, these two were linked not by a man.

If a brand decided to start a dialogue with its followers, it should be as honest as possible. And if we are honest, it’ll be fair to accept that an Armenian woman, like an Armenian man, uses both alcohol and cigarettes. Keeping that in “secret,” you change the reality your society has.

Many women in Armenia even don’t say that they had a nose job. One thing is obvious: the number of retroussé noses is growing; at the same time, Armenian “eagle” noses are disappearing like mammoths once did. The campaign created for Gevorg Yeghiazaryan aimed to raise the issue of nose surgery stigmas. Of course, the case was criticized. However, such communications with criticism brought the reason that led to the slow elimination of this taboo. The nose topic is becoming unexciting. Moreover, soon it will not differ in any way from an ordinary breakfast topic.

Safe can be riskier than risky, and risky can be safer than safe.

Taboos raise noise in society. Many brands are not ready to be in the middle of that noise. They choose the “safe place” strategy.

When you talk about something people used to listen to, there won’t be thrown tomatoes on the stage. However, addressing the taboo subject must also be substantiated by the business purpose. Otherwise, it can not be helpful.

But if your brand needs to raise taboos as a subject of its upcoming communications, be ready for big waves and take surfboards to catch the wave. Taboo is undoubtedly a cultural feature. Breaking it is a feature of individuals. Taboo politics leads to monotonous advertising campaigns and the spread of safer options. Safe is not always what the brand needs.

Often chosen security can be risky for brand development. Safe can be riskier than risky, and risky can be safer than safe.

By the way, if you faced any taboos in advertising, share your observations. Those can help people to notice something that they always passed around.

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