Marketers don’t let marketers poke too much fun at cankles

July 15, 2009

By way of an article in Brandweek, I learned of a promotional campaign for Gold’s Gym that takes aim at the “fastest growing ‘aesthetic affliction’ in the United States” — cankles.

saynotocankles_adCome on. Don’t pretend you don’t know what cankles are. There’s a lot of potential for a great “humorous awareness campaign,” to use Brandweek’s description, poking some gentle fun at this affliction while gaining some visibility for Gold’s. Yes, you’d need to tread lightly so as to motivate more people than you offend, but it’s a great idea, right?

Well, apparently, the campaign was a bit funnier when it launched than it is now.

The campaign includes banner ads exclaiming “Friends don’t let friends get cankles,” offering a gift cards for referrals and driving traffic to SayNoToCankles.com.

According to an article on a Chicago Tribune health blog, the Say No microsite included a mention of cankles being the “fastest growing ‘aesthetic affliction’ in the country, ahead of muffin tops, saddle bags and moobs.” A screenshot grabbed from Google’s cached version of the site confirms the appearance of that line. But today, the site does not contain any such reference.

In it’s current incarnation, the site isn’t funny. I suppose the ads are a bit humorous and attention-getting, but there’s no humor on the microsite. But once upon a time, it had this amusing intro:

Cankles are the fastest growing “aesthetic affliction” in the United States – even ahead of other bathing suit killers like Muffin Tops, Saddle Bags and Moobs. Millions of people across the country are currently affected by Cankles and millions more are “at risk.” In fact, it is estimated that if current trends continue, by the year 2012 Cankles will surpass Love Handles as the number one aesthetic affliction in the world.

Gold’s Gym has created saynotocankles.com to raise awareness for this growing epidemic and provide information and resources for those affected. If you or a loved one is suffering Cankles – we are here to provide the support you need.

Together, we can put an end to Cankles.

None of that appears on the site now. It seems as though the site was a bit too over-the-top for some. Too mean or too “this sounds like we’re serious, not joking around.” It now says, “[This campaign is] a tongue-in-cheek shot at America’s obsession with perfection and we hope consumers realize its broader objective… to promote a healthy lifestyle through fitness. The truth is that people (and their ankles) come in all shapes and sizes…”

How’s that for back-pedaling? I don’t know if the ads are still running, or if they’re still running as they were initially designed, but I’d be curious to find out. A quick search turns up some folks who are upset by the campaign, but this certainly hasn’t reached Motrin Moms levels of uproar. If there’s concern over offending people, does tweaking the intro to the microsite — as opposed to, say, pulling the campaign — address the problem?

Can you be edgy and creative without offending, upsetting or confusing some people? And if — or when — you do offend, upset or confuse, is it worth it if the campaign does its job? More importantly, how do I know if I have cankles?