by Adeline Cruz-Phillips, Account Director
2016 continues to be a year for the records. Major events like the Olympics and U.S. presidential elections have us all at the edge of our seats. It’s a year in which influential people and brands alike have decided to say what they really think and act according to their values. This got me thinking about the influence of “political correctness” and how it affects us all, especially as we market our brands. Today, more than ever, politicians, brands and inviduals have to watch what they say for fear of being sued, fired or taken to court. Political correctness is running rampant and being “PC” is changing the way we all communicate.
Why Marketers Are Struggling
How political correctness got started is anyone’s guess. It’s everywhere. It’s pervasive. The only way to deal with it is to understand what it is. Merriam-Webster defines “politically correct” as “agreeing with the idea that people should be careful to not use language or behave in a way that could offend a particular group of people.” In an era in which younger generations crave fluidity and inclusivity, other groups want to hold tight to more traditional values. Marketers couldn’t ask for a bigger challenge; stay true to your brand and help it grow, without alienating your core consumers.
So how prevalent is political correctness, and is it possible to come out victorious in today’s marketing battle? Here are some examples of how PC is shaping our world:
- Government workers in Seattle have been told that they should no longer use the words “citizen” and “brown bag” because they are potentially offensive.
- Target’s restroom policy change to accommodate transgender individuals resulted in a lot of controversy, after people disagreeing with the policy signed a petition to boycott it.
- An elementary school in North Carolina ordered a little six-year-old girl to remove the word “God” from a poem that she wrote to honor her two grandfathers that had served in the Vietnam War.
- Washington Redskins merchandise has dropped 35%, as some concerned fans don’t want to be called racist for wearing a Redskins T-Shirt.
- Probably the most impacted market by political correctness is Christmas. Just 3.1% of all Americans are Atheist, 5.9% are non-Christian, and 70.6% are Christian, and yet a minority has put enough pressure on marketers to get 49% to embrace “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” over “Merry Christmas.” For fear of not being PC and offending somebody, some retailers are not displaying Christmas decorations and greet customers with “Happy Holidays.”
One Final Word Of Advice
As you navigate in the world of political correctness, remember that it looks like it’s here to stay. Consumers’ expectations about brands have never been higher and with them come big responsibilities. Although there isn’t a foolproof way to protect your brand from political correctness, try to stick to your core values, be respectful and triple check the communications that broader audiences will see. Good luck, and let us know if you need any help.