How to create meaningful ads and avoid public backlash in 2020

Every day, across mainstream media and social media, a myriad of storms erupt that cause damage to governments and companies operating in Australia and their brands.

Many of these communication disasters are avoidable if senior leadership, marketing, advertising and PR teams take a moment to think about the language they use and the way ideas are conceived and positioned.

It is extremely easy to inadvertently step on a linguistic landmine. The rise of social media means you are open to scrutiny, not just from journalists or media outlets. Now anyone on social media has the ability to flag an issue and for it to quickly escalate.

We’ve entered an age where we should know better and do better. It should be evident of how society has shifted significantly, and for companies, brands and governments to keep up with the changing social barometer.

Get it wrong and it’s more than your reputation on the line. It can destroy a company, lose an election, damage a share price and have stakeholders avoiding you completely. So much investment is now made in data to understand ‘the customer’ and the political undercurrents, but sadly this knowledge can fail to translate to the messaging put out in public forums.

When designing your approach and the language you use to communicate it, keep in mind these shifts in public sentiment, if you want to avoid a preventable and increasingly predictable backlash.

  • Females – avoid any messaging that is not based on equality and inclusion. Don’t assume a mother isn’t also engaged in a career. Don’t celebrate unrealistic body shapes or beauty, celebrate body positivity and individualism.
  • Males – avoid any messaging that sounds superior or strengthens unhealthy masculine stereotypes. Don’t assume a father can’t also be the primary caregiver of children.
  • Children – never sexualise children and don’t use them for political leverage.
  • Violence against women – shift the narrative to focusing on the ‘perpetrator’ instead of the victim.
  • Young people and home ownership – don’t suggest the solution is to access the bank of mum and dad.
  • Manufacturing – think sustainability, reuse, recycle and ethically consider the workforce you engage in production.
  • Race – demonstrate diversity and inclusion, make a real effort to use multicultural imagery.
  • Gender – accept fluidity and be inclusive and reflective of all, regardless of how people identify.
  • Environment – remember we only have one planet, consider your packaging, reduce wastage and plastic, embrace recycled materials, and focus on sustainability alongside profitability.
  • Religion – don’t alienate or ridicule groups of people.
  • Fur and fashion – we do not see Gen Z and Millennials walking around in fur draped over their activewear, embrace the modern consumer and meet their needs.
  • Conflicts of interest – don’t try and hide any, be up front and transparent at all times.

By Anthony Caruana and Kathryn Van Kuyk, cofounders of Media-Wize.

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