Pepsi thought they could contribute to social justice by having Kendall Jenner give a can of pop to a police officer.
Starbucks thought they could advance race relations by encouraging you to chat with your local barista. Dove didn’t mean to comment on race in their ad “White is Purity,” but, ya, they did. Pushing the limits of making an emotional connection with their audience, McDonald’s suggested a young boy could reconnect with his dead father by eating a Filet-O-Fish. And let’s not forget the 9/11 memorial mattress sale.
We live in an exceptionally sensitive world folks, which brings us to the top of our list – offensive advertising. Those big brands weren’t killed, but certainly lost a lot in recovery. Smaller businesses may not be able to withstand the backlash.
The problem is, none of these ad creators intended to offend anyone. They thought their ad was clever, topical, funny, engaging. Well, yes, it might have been, but it was also offensive! It happens though. The people working on the ad just don’t see the downside. The narrative they create makes sense for their objectives. So how do you avoid these costly and potentially disastrous mistakes?
It’s on you. The brand is going to take the hit, so it’s the owner, president, CEO – whoever’s at the top of the org chart – that needs to take a closer look at any ad before it gets released. Don’t even try to blame the ad agency, or anyone else. That will only make things worse for you.
Get different perspectives. And by “different,” I mean: people who were not involved in creating the ad; as diverse a group as you can find; and, trusted people outside of your organization.
A banana is never just a banana. I know. This is the point where you throw up your hands and say, “someone is always going to be offended,” so let’s just go with it. DON’T DO IT. Your most valuable asset – your brand reputation – is at stake. Send the ad team back to the drawing board.
Beware of placement. Some great ads become terrible ads due only to their inappropriate placement. Like the large poster that says “Come closer” on the far side of the subway tracks. Be sure to request approval of the placement, including venue and adjacent ads.
Never play on heartache. Yes, one of the objectives of a good ad is making an emotional connection with your target audience. Do not take that to mean that you can reference heartbreaking personal situations or tragic events. If you want to support a cause of any sort, get permission and collaborate with representatives.
It is a field of land-mines, but you still need to advertise. Keep it simple. Focus on your strengths. Think it through carefully.