This week, crickets. But you have to give Pepsi credit for the outrage it recently generated over its “Amp Up Before You Score” app for the iPhone. Produced by R/GA, it’s still going strong in the downloads, but Amp app outrage was ditched pretty much as soon as the Balloon Boy started vomiting on camera (I mean, who can keep up?) But still, when before has a non-leading brand of energy drink gotten up there in the headlines alongside Jon and Kate? As soon as the buzz got big, the company was even ready with its non-apologetic apology tweet and faux-transparent hashtag (#Pepsifail) to keep the ruckus going. (UPDATE: Pepsi finally announced on Oct. 22 that it was withdrawing the app.)
The sad thing is that if you look at the content, it’s really not as bad as it’s packaged to be. There’s some funny stuff. It’s just coated in purposely offensive language. For example, if the creators really wanted to be young and edgy, wouldn’t the use of the word “score” seem totally dated, in a gross, ’70s-holdover, comb-over guy kind of way? The word, even used jokingly with air quotes, rubs most women (and dads of teenage girls) the wrong way, so it immediately achieves a far angrier and more polarizing reaction.
Even worse than this choice of vocabulary, the idea is totally derivative. Never mind all the countless laddy mags and beer executions. Look up the past five years of Axe advertising and you’ll see that there’s not one new thing in this Amp app. In 2006 (before there were even iPhones!), there was an Axe mobile phone application for this. Yup, three years ago, BBH London also used the then-newest technology around to help guys with the oldest trick in the book. The application it built (the brand was called Lynx in the U.K.), among other things, turned the user’s phone into a geeky pick-up tool. One function transformed the phone into a Geiger counter, beeping when it found a “hot” girl. Another provided a harmonica sound for the guy to turn into a street poet like Bob Dylan. Also for Axe in 2006, BBH New York teamed with production company @radical.media to create Gamekillers. The MTV scripted reality show was about the types of guys who ruin their friends’ chances with the opposite sex, including “the Mess,” who kills with his flatulence. It was a hit.
When the AMP app is not aggressively wrapping itself in the lowest part of stupid dude-dom, what’s actually on it? There is some wonderful art illustrating female stereotypes. Ditto for the nicely observed, funny details in the copy. I love the picture of the “nerd girl,” with the Spock ears, holding a clarinet. Possible pick-up line for her: “Wasn’t I in Space Academy with you?” I didn’t enjoy the Cougar drawing as much (note to self: never wear sunglasses on head). There is some (hugely wasted) utility built in: It offers links to world news for the “foreign exchange student.” For the “rebound girl” — she of the mascara running down her face who has just broken up with her boyfriend — it shows maps of local ice cream shops. The truly objectionable part is that the app then lets the user add the name of his prey, date of the deed and comments to his “brag list,” which can be shared on sites like Facebook and Twitter. That part should have been disabled.
As created by R/GA, it looks and works great. But that agency touts the importance of utility. How much money, time and effort were put into this horrendous belt-notching activity? It’s neither entertaining nor useful. In the end, aren’t we all getting a little tired of what the Web site Jezebel has dubbed “Bro culture?” Imagine if all that effort was put toward something productive, like teaching men and women to respect each others. Even if the creators claim it’s all a joke — and it’s actually more of a joke on clueless men than women — there is a certain level of hypocrisy in using sexist images to try to parody or spoof sexism. The work is disingenuous at best — having their cake and eating it too. And the worst part: advertising like this Amp app is just actively feeding and nurturing the development of future Jon Gosselins.