Steer Clear of Potentially Offensive Advertising

December 18, 2019

In the past couple of years, it has become ever more common for large companies to find themselves forced to apologize due to an advertisement that has offended a large portion of their audience. Still, even after a public apology, it is likely that the financial repercussions will continue to plague a company that has been branded offensive. Particularly in the digital age in which even canceled advertisements live on forever. As an ad agency, we take this role very seriously. In the best interest of our clients, we thoroughly review any presented initiatives to ensure they are ready for the limelight. 

According to a study performed by Harris Interactive, 35% of consumers will not buy products from a company that releases an offensive ad. While an ad might have great intentions, it is essential to remember that everyone has different thoughts and feelings regarding offensive material. 

When making an advertising campaign, it is best to keep the following in mind: 

 Don't be insulting 

While that may seem like it is common sense, seemingly harmless ads sometimes make the mistake of assuming the audience will find humor in the insult and ignore that some people might find it offensive. Never make assumptions about your audience and don't include your opinion or judgments in your advertising. This has been especially true when it comes to body shaming. 

Be Inclusive 

Your product might only target one segment of the market, but people from all walks of life will see it. Don't alienate a whole group, that's just bad business. Even a small percentage of the population can add up to big numbers.

Offer Good Advice

Don't encourage your audience to act foolishly. Ads have promoted just about anything - from cheating to committing felonies. Don't be that company. If you are going to offer advice, make sure it is helpful rather than hurtful. Consumers WILL complain about companies sending inappropriate messages. 

Don't Take Sides

While your brand can have a voice, it is most beneficial to your company to avoid taking sides on heavily divided topics. Again, it is great to have strong beliefs, but promoting them via advertisement will cost your company. However, this doesn't mean that your company can't advocate for things that are important to everyone. 

Be Conscientious  

One of the biggest mistakes made in advertisements is failing to understand a particular culture. If you are an international company, you need to act like it and be sensitive to the phrases and words as it could mean something completely different somewhere else. Outraging an audience because you didn't bother to check on the meaning of something in a different cultural environment is not easy to justify when you are a giant company. Always run your advertisement by someone who is part of the culture and be sensitive to the differences that exist. 

Don't Stereotype 

A quick way to offend your audience is to stereotype them. As a company, your goal is to get people to love your brand and connect with it, so don't distance them with offensive statements. For instance, don’t assume women are the designated home cleaner unless you want to hurt financially. 

Look at the Bigger Picture 

Review your ad, re-review it, and have others review it. An advertisement that seems utterly harmless to you might get misconstrued by someone else. It can happen when you are too close to a project and are only focusing on the details and not the bigger picture. The details might add up to a very offensive ad. 

Advertising is compelling, but only when done correctly. Whether you are a small local company or an international mega brand, the rules are the same. Don't be offensive and send the right message-- your success depends on it. 


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