(USA TODAY) -- Sophomoric? Silly? Or a smart strategic move?
The jury is out on a new Kmart ad that uses slight of mouth to promote a free shipping service. The online video shows customers who exclaim that they are going to "ship their pants" through a Kmart delivery program -- but it sounds as if they are using a vulgar word that rhymes with ship.
Some social media users have deemed the ad, created by the Draftfcb Chicago agency, "gross" and "vulgar," while many gave kudos to Kmart for having an edgy sense of humor. But even with the negative comments, Kmart got what it wanted: Millions of potential shoppers now know that it offers free shipping for member of its "Shop Your Way" program when the product they want isn't in the store.
News networks such as CNN's HLN are reporting on the controversial ad, while the official YouTube video from Kmart has garnered more than 7.6 million views as of early afternoon Monday.
While most people don't remember one word of past Kmart commercials, this ad is "lighting up the Internet," says Mediapost.com advertising columnist Barbara Lippert.
"People are talking about it. People are writing about it," she says. "It did exactly what it was supposed to do."
If the ad simply said that Kmart had free shipping as part of this program, it wouldn't reap the buzz it's now receiving, says Lippert, adding that people should never underestimate the power "of a doody joke."
"It's fourth-grade humor, but it makes you laugh," she says.
One thing helping the online commercial: it features folks of all ages - from a kid to middle-age shoppers to seniors -- saying "ship my pants" in funny tones. That adds a bit of universally appeal, says Lippert. "It's not degrading anyone." she says.
Kmart spokeswoman Shannelle Armstrong-Fowler says the company is "pleasantly surprised to see the overwhelmingly positive response it has received."
Beginning next week, Kmart will also air the irreverant ad on some cable channels. More than 14,000 Facebook users commented on the off-color video that Kmart posted on its Facebook page. That video also received more than 26,000 "likes" by Monday morning.
"Great commercial, gets your attention and makes you smile. Good job," said Facebook user Norbert R. Gabby.
Yet, Melissa Clark Edgington commented on that Facebook page that she was "disappointed by the lack of character" that Kmart showed. "I understand that times are hard, but if you have to stoop to shooting a commercial that isn't appropriate for my children to hear, then I think it's about time to shut your doors," she said. "Low standards equal a low quality business and low expectations. The ad just seems desperate."
That comment had 50 likes early Monday. Facebook user Sean Farrelly acknowledges that the ad will upset and irritate some, but thinks Kmart will reap overall rewards. "For every 1 customer you've offended, you've gained 1,000 fans with this," he said on Kmart's Facebook page. That comment had 111 likes.
Even with the positive attention, there are risks when a big company like Kmart takes a chance with an ad that appears out of character.
"It can seem like a desperation move since it's so out of their brand image," says Lippert. But most viewers seem to appreciate the Kmart ad's humor, she says. Yet, she stresses that the retailer can't just run a one-off ad and expect sales to increase.
It also has to make sure that other aspects of its business are consumer friendly, such as carry interesting merchandise, as well as have great customer service.