Friday, April 3, 2009

Sign of the times.

You’ve got to love Plaxo – they reminded me that a friend was getting older. Plaxo is hooked up with ecards – I linked out to see what I could send for free. One of the first free cards was of a hand sign. Innocuous enough, but it looked vaguely familiar. Then I remembered a training packet my wife brought home while teaching alternative education students some years ago.

The police had a training course put together with Michigan State University on gang symbols, colors and graffiti. Ever since then I’ve been wary of any talent using hand signs in our Jeep® advertising. When working at BBDO-Detroit I recommended steering away from a questionable hand gesture that was proposed for a print campaign. My feeling was it was better to be safe than sorry.

This ecards is the sign language symbol for love - it’s also used as a gang sign by the Almighty Latin King Nation – now known as “Latin Kings” or “Latin Kingz.” It’s been said that the Latin Kings have over 5,000 hand gestures in their “handabulary” (my own term). Who could have anticipated that obscure gang signs would have the far-reaching capacity to shut down expensive advertising campaigns?

The Virginia Department of Tourism ended up pulling a $400,000 “Live Passionately” campaign because of a seemingly innocuous image of a woman making a heart symbol with her hands. It turns out the sign is used by members of the Chicago-based Gangster Disciples gang. They were known for selling crack-cocaine and were featured in a book called “Freakonomics” – where a sociology grad student tagged along to learn the gang’s structure and business operations.

Is it time that corporate legal representation has to be familiar with gang signs to ensure that a campaign does not go awry? Let's hope reason will win out.

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