Death Squad Chic

Diesel's disturbing ad campaign would have made Evita blush.

| Tue May 26, 1998 2:00 AM EDT

The good folks at Diesel want you to buy their jeans. They've launched a hipper-than-thou ad campaign featuring Turkish executioners, an elderly woman grabbing her elderly male companion's "package", and several Diesel-clad young people drowning. Lowe Howard-Spink, the agency that created the ads, says they appeal to "the deeper, darker, more disturbed recesses of the mind!"

Marketing death can be a winning strategy. Unfortunately, sometimes it hits against that nasty problem: reality—especially in places like Argentina, where in the 1970s death was a government policy. Following a military coup in 1976, the Argentinean government conducted a "dirty war" against suspected leftists for seven years. As many as 30,000 Argentineans vanished, most never to appear again. One method used by the Argentinean government to "disappear" unwanted elements: Tie them up (see below), fly them over the ocean, and drop them—alive (see below)—into the murky waters of the Atlantic (see below).

Advertise on MotherJones.com

So understandably, the Diesel ad (see below) that depicts youths, sporting Diesel pants, tied to cinder blocks and drowning underwater, didn't go over too well. Groups like Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, a coalition of mothers still looking for their disappeared children, were not amused by the ad and it's tag line, "At least you'll have a beautfiul corpse."

When angry letters flowed in, Diesel said it was surprised by the negative reaction. The company issued a press release stating that the ad had been run in over 80 countries and was not specifically developed for Argentina. They didn't apologize, but the company did say that they wouldn't be running the ad in Argentina again.

A word of advice to the marketing gurus at Diesel: if and when you run ads in Japan, don't refer to your product as "the bomb."