How Diesel Called a Generation Stupid and Got Away With It

The Be Stupid Philosophy

“Sticks and Stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.” Seriously? Whoever can honestly say this is true, has some the ego of Goliath. Even some the most recognizable coldhearted people,  have been known to shiver when an insult is thrown their way. Words are powerful things and when they praise us up we feel good and when they criticize us we feel like crap. As marketers in a technology driven world, our words are more powerful than ever. We have to be careful how our punctuation looks in a text message, e-mail, even a tweet. We are in a time where words matter and if you don’t use them carefully you can do some damage.

Words are powerful forces. One of the most powerful words in the human dictionary is “stupid.” When someone calls you stupid you have no choice but to take it personal. Earlier this year, an advertising campaign for Diesel spread over the internet, retweeted from person to person, claiming that it was better to be stupid than to be smart. People had mixed emotions about the campaign, some claimed it was insulting while others claimed it to be inspiring. Take a look and be the judge..

Redefining Stupid

Everyone has an idea. You can’t tell me that you haven’t had an “A-ha!” moment where you thought of the next Facebook or YouTube. Everyone has them, everyone has dreams. But what holds us back from actually acting on those ideas and chasing our dreams is the deflater discussed in this clip. The crusher of possibility. The fear of our ideas being stupid. Everyone believes that you can be successful by making mistakes and chasing your dreams. But beliefs don’t necessarily make people care enough to act.

Diesel doesn’t deny the negativity around the word Stupid. In fact, they immediately remind us that the word stupid is “the crusher of possibility and the worlds greatest deflator.” Surprisingly however, they follow that up by saying they’re with stupid. They’re with stupid because  smart might have the brains, but stupid has the balls. The balls to go out there and create something remarkable. By removing the negative association that we already have with the word stupid they make stupid sound special. It makes it sound cool and ultimately something that will grab our attention.

A Generation That Wants to be Stupid

Would you rather be referred to as someone who has the brains or someone who has guts (balls)? Traditionally, the answer would be something along the lines of “Knowledge is power – Of course I want to be smart.” During the recession however, we all witnessed the downfall of many smart executives. These were the people who worked their butts off for years within the same company to find get laid off  and watch their retirement fund crumble. Is that what you get for being smart? If that’s not something you’re exactly interested in don’t fright, you’re not alone. According to a Gallop Poll,

Half of all new college graduates now believe that self-employment is more secure than a full-time job. Today, 80% of the colleges and universities in the U.S. now offer courses on entrepreneurship; 60% of Gen Y business owners consider themselves to be serial entrepreneurs. Tellingly, 18- to 24-year-olds are starting companies at a faster rate than 35- to 44-year-olds. And 70% of today’s high schoolers intend to start their own companies.

The Young Professionals in today’s market are worried. Worried that in a few years they will find themselves in a situation similar to the baby boomers. While many of this generation accept the templated way of life, many are out there trying to control their own destiny.  At a young age they are putting the hammer and nail in their own tool kit and trying to build something. The risks are present. They recognize the fact that the odds are in fact stacked against them. However, like this campaign says,

Stupid knows that there are worse things than failure.
Like not even trying.

You’re Stupid – THANKS!

So how did Diesel get away with it? They turned an insult into something inspiring.

They focused on something that they  knew would hit home with the younger generation. They weren’t targeting the guy who will work 9-5 for the next eight years in a cubicle waiting for his big break. They were targeting the outspoken, ambitious, risk taking go-getter who doesn’t care when she makes a mistake.  It’s obvious that Diesel isn’t targeting your average financial advisor or certified accountant either. They are targeting someone ambitious, young and values passion over IQ. If anything they are promoting ingenuity.

Lots of highly educated people criticized the Ad saying that it is only promoting that street smarts trumps book smarts. I argue that this advertisement is less about education level and more about an attitude. An attitude that is fearless and rebellious against the status quo. If you have never heard of the Magic School Bus, I suggest you take a search on google and find it. If you did in fact watch the show as a child, I think you will agree that this Ad is taking a page out of Miss Frizzles book,

Take chances, make mistakes, get messy.”

Does this campaign work? You damn right it works. Chris Parsons, from Idea Drunk has gone so far as to claim this to be his new Mantra! Diesel knew their target market and Anomaly London effectively produced an Ad that hit home with their target. I leave you with a print Ad they also ran with the campaign..

Now, I’m sure there are some of you out there who think this Ad is ridiculous and I’d love to hear what you think. Why doesn’t it work for you?


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