Is inoffensive marketing offensive?

Will brands ever worry that they’re not being offensive enough?

It sounds like an absurd question but I think there are issues around being too safe and bland worth considering. I’m not suggesting that I’ve the answer here. I certainly don’t. I do wonder whether I’m alone in spotting this rising conflict between respect and expectations so let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

When Snapchat’s Yellowface filter was in the news and labeled as a mistake I saw the issue discussed, in Facebook, by anime and manga fans (most of whom were younger than 25). The group’s conclusion was the filter wasn’t racist, it was funny, and people should get over it. This was the same network of fans who were outraged at Scarlett Johansson being cast as Motoko Kusanagi rather than an Asian actress.

I was surprised when a similar demographic divided into warring factions on the infamous Gamer Gate scandal. The same people who would defend your right to cosplay as anyone you want, despite your gender, size or colour, became extremely agitated at the suggestion fewer computer games should cast sexy princesses needing to be rescued (for example). The loudest voices against the ‘social justice warriors’ where the young female computer game fans. So what was going on there? Defending a culture against perceived ‘meddling from outsiders’?

These are just snapshots, of course, and it is always dangerous to generalize from individual pockets of opinion. After all, it might just be a coincidence that I keep on bumping into them. I keep bumping into them. Increasingly I’m encountering people who are offended at how easily other people are offended. Yeah, there’s an irony there.

More recently, a series of adverts created for the Paralympics by Mars for Maltesers created some chatter. Was it a good idea to be making sex-meets-disabilities jokes in order to sell chocolate balls? From the reactions I saw: it was.

At the time of writing Mars have over 6,400 thumbs up on that video with only 800 or so thumbs down against it. It seems to me the ad was well worth doing - even if it offended some people.

It's not easy. It's not as if we don't still have loads of work to do in representing women and all cultures in ads (in all media). The Maltesers example shows that us discovering ads treating disabled people as people are still so are that they’re a talking point.

Launch a new product for a female audience that’s essentially a pink coloured version of an established product and you’ll find out what I’ll mean. Some data, somewhere, will have said it was a good idea – that you needed to get women to buy your product – but the internet will soon rip you a new arsehole for being so stupid. Ask the team behind “Bic for Her”.

As I said, these are just snapshops, but I think they’re symptomatic of a larger issue; of a diverse and changing cultures.

It feels to be me that a growing percentage of potential customers are turned away by a lack of respect but also by a lack of guts.

The challenge is finding that balance.

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