There is no doubt that with the advent of social networking sites, blogging, e-mail, and the ease and speed with which companies and executives can communicate with customers, suppliers, and employees the chances for stubbing one’s toe by making a communication mistake increases tremendously. Making this even more precarious is the politically correct environment that many businesses find themselves in currently. It may seem to some that there are people or groups that are just looking for things to be offended about or to protest. Unfortunately, those same people have access to the same communication channels, internet, and email. Offend them, and it is quickly publicized on electronic bulletin boards, blogs, podcasts, posts, or other communication vehicles.
Tone Deaf Examples
Just recently, the following examples occured to point out how a company or individual may think is witty or funny can be perceived very differently by prospective customers or those that disagree. What some see as compelling can be seen as offensive or so inappropriate to be considered to be tone deaf to the general sentiment of others.
Consultant example – a recent email landed in my email box (I will blind the person’s name who sent it so as not to bring further shame) that had the following “prompt” to join a webinar panel discussion being held by this consultant: “This event is like having Arnold Schwarzenegger as your personal trainer – for your mind!” Now, given the most recent news about the former Governor’s infidelities and general diminishment of his status as a respected figure – is that really the example one should choose to induce a prospect to join the call? The intended point was to link the once popular bodybuilder and his dedication to lifting weights and fitness with the idea of working hard on one’s business to see results. But, isn’t it a bit jarring to invite people to an event by affiliating it in some way with the disgraced adulterer?
Second example – Cadbury was called to task by Naomi Campbell (herself not exactly one who should be throwing stones, or cell telephones for that matter) because a recent advertisement of theirsthat ran in the UK mentioned her by name and referred to a chocolate product as being a bigger diva than she. Ms. Campbell’s ire was stoked not by the reference to being a diva – but because it was a chocolate product and therefore was racially offensive. In response, Cadbury has pulled the ad and has no plans to re-run it.
Third example – a soda company in Connecticut known for creating quirky flavors of product and doing aggressive local marketing to drive distribution of their products in small convenience stores, delis, or other places where beverages may be purchased on impulse developed a product to take advantage of the stealth action taken against Osama bin Laden. Their product apparently was meant to be celebratory and to have a little fun – but not all saw it as such. A product that is meant to resemble the color of blood and to have a photo of Osama bin Laden on it may make some giddy and curious about the product – but it also runs the risk of offending many.
There are marketers that believe that getting people to talk about a product is always good and that stirring up controversy is a sure way to generate “buzz” or at least get people to talk about the company, product, and marketing campaign. For other companies, the risk is far too great and while there seems to be no end to what someone somewhere will find offensive, a little common-sense can often anticipate the majority of objections and find a way to steer clear of willfully creating outrage and generating il will.