Offensive Communication in Advertisements and Other Marketing Strategies by Brands


Brands today are doing anything and everything in their control to go viral and make an impact on their consumers, but what about going viral for the wrong thing? Offensive communication through advertisements, products, or marketing strategies is something that is disliked by consumers and leads to negative actions like −

  • Boycotting of the product or service manufactured by the brand

  • Spreading negative word of mouth regarding the company and its positioning.

  • Turning a blind eye to other advertisements and strategies by the company.

  • Defaming the company in public forums

  • Boycotting the products of the umbrella brands

In this article, we will be understanding the different types of offensive communication done by brands, examples of some of the more prominent brands’ advertisements or marketing strategies going downhill, and how brands can recover from the same.

Offensive Communication by Brands

There will always be consumers or viewers of the company who find the brand's communication offensive. However, a difference arises when the majority of the viewers and the community find the communication offensive. Viewers can find the communication offensive when −

  • A brand practices racism.

  • A brand practices sexism.

  • A brand promotes unruly behavior and actions.

  • When brands hijack national or global tragedies.

  • When a brand crosses the line, it is called brand infringement.

  • When the brand promotes the typical unruly stereotype or standards of beauty.

  • When a brand defames a particular gender, caste, creed, religion, individual, group of individuals, political opinion, and others.

Some Examples of Prominent Brands and Offensive Communication

There are situations when the brand uses offensive communication, but most of the time the communication is unintentional or interpreted in other ways. In this situation, the company was not trying to offend the community but was just trying to create humor or attract consumers. Hence, it is very crucial for us to list down the examples to get a better understanding of offensive communication, and some of them are −

Heineken’s Beer and Racial Discrimination

The brand came up with the advertisement "Lighter is better" sometimes when it comes down to beer consumption while portraying the advertisement, what the brand did wrong was to show the beer passing by three black people and finally consumed by a white person. The tagline could be interpreted in other manners and was offensive to many communities.

Anheuser Busch and the Promotion of Disorderly Behavior

The brand created labels such as "the perfect beer for removing "no" from your vocabulary for date night." The brand had to take down the production of such labels. The intention of the brand was not to promote dating rape, but the message could be interpreted in that way and was promoting sexual abuse in the community.

Marketers of Barbie Dolls and the Promotion of Stereotypes

Barbie dolls are played by young women across all nations. It is seen as a girl’s idol at a very young age. What the brand did was produce more of the bustier and slimmer Barbie dolls. The community found it to be distasteful and offensive because it was developing unrealistic expectations and setting beauty standards that resulted in body shaming issues and body acceptance problems.

G. I. Joe Dolls and the Subtle Promotion of Drug use

The company created more muscular toys for the man child, young adults, and children, indirectly encouraging drug use to achieve that muscular body. Just like for girls, the male counterparts found their heroes in the toys, and hence the community found it offensive and unacceptable.

Myntra Logo and Offending the Women’s Community

Myntra is an online retail store popular in India. The brand logo of Myntra depicts the "M" in a way that it seems like the legs of women are open for intercourse. The logo was found distasteful and offensive to the entire women’s community. The company changed the logo and issued statements declaring that it was not the intention of the company. The company also had to pay a huge fine in monetary terms.

National Mutual Insurance and Personal Tragedies

The company in the Super Bowl advertisement depicted a boy who died at an early stage because of an accident in their house and narrated all the things that he will not be able to do now that he is dead. The advertisements received a lot of negative emotions as they were trying to monetize something so personal and tragic. The advertisement's goal was to raise awareness about the importance of insuring small children, but it completely deviated from that goal.

Steps that a Brand Can Take to Recover from the After-effects of Offensive Communication

Because the brand is dealing with human emotions, recovering from the aftereffects of offensive communication is extremely difficult. Humans are complicated emotional beings, and a lot needs to be done to build that trust and relationship again. Some of the steps could be −

  • Write official letters of apology and convey the same to the viewers. Since your offensive communication has gone viral, there is no point in denying the allegation or trying to find excuses. Consumers will fight back hard if they find the brand rigid. Accept your mistake and be the bigger person.

  • Amend your mistake. Only accepting your mistake is not enough; brands should withdraw offensive advertisements from various sites, change the theme and the logo if there were inappropriate elements, and try their best to not create more offensive content.

  • Next time, try to read your target consumers better and create more relatable advertisements. If you're too scared, take the traditional approach, as the Super Bowl did when it was chastised for its crude humor and gags the previous year. Know your target audience before deciding on the content that you will be displaying.

  • It is important to rebuild trust, and since the brand has hurt the feelings of the community, it is time that they do something by going out of its way for them. Various corporate social responsibility activities can be done by the brand to reconnect with its consumers and create goodwill for the brand. The brand can be associated with providing midday meals for the poor, better educational facilities for children, helping sex workers, etc.

Companies now have to understand that it is more important for them to stay on the good side of the community than to produce offensive content to go viral. A huge monetary cost is also involved with repairing the damages done by the offensive communication, and the government today is also imposing huge financial fines.

The Super Bowl is something very huge for the viewers, and brands have to fight to be on the advertisement list. Companies and the Super Bowl today are researching and analyzing the emotions and views of the viewer beforehand in order to ensure no offensive content is aired during prime time, and this helps us understand the importance of issuing no offensive content.

We live in a diverse world with different opinions. It is not possible to keep everyone happy, but it is simple to not offend the majority. Knowing your target audience and then marketing your product is crucial today.

Updated on: 15-Feb-2023

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