Marketers, Are You Considering The Context?

It’s been quite the year for marketers. From Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner commercial depicting “the modern protests” to Dove’s racially insensitive body wash ad, we are unfortunately seeing not just “tone deaf” ads and campaigns but, moreover, campaigns that lack context or humanity. 

The week of the Las Vegas mass shooting, I received a marketing newsletter from a company referencing “a revolution,” “muskets” and “laser-guided precision” to help guide my marketing efforts. 

While a creative play on words might have worked fine at another time, the week of this terrible act of violence was far from the appropriate time to have this message resonate. I was outraged that this message got through approvals and reached public audiences. 

So I asked myself: how did we get here? 

Why do we receive insensitive messages and view ads from established brands that significantly miss the mark?



The reality is, the face of marketing has changed. In many instances, marketing today is in the hands of everyone, including most who are not trained in core marketing principles. They are running social handles, writing blogs or newsletters and engaging on behalf of companies — very publicly — in a way that isn’t always considering the full picture or the context. 

We live in an age flooded with messages, news and notifications from countless sources and sometimes it’s easy to tune it all out, put our heads down and focus on work. 

But as marketers, we don’t have that luxury. You see, the context and the bigger picture is critical to the message you’re delivering.

Companies are being closely watched and judged simultaneously by all stakeholders.

Take, for example, the recent high-profile hacks of Equifax and Uber. Within hours of Uber disclosing that it paid hackers not to release customer data, the company was getting national media attention. The next day, regulators from around the world were looking into the Uber incident.

Or, take the #MeToo movement. Consumers are looking to support brands that stand up for equality. They need better representation and treatment than what they’ve seen in Hollywood, in politics and in business. These are opportunities for marketers to consider their audiences, consider their messages — are they inclusive, are they respectful, are they empowering? 

Now more than ever, your brand can’t articulate one value and then behave in a completely different manner. Consumers are voting with their wallets and are closely watching companies’ actions. 

So how can we be better?

It’s imperative to know what’s happening around you — locally, nationally and globally — so that you are creating messages and narratives that are, yes, timely but more importantly are sensitive and appropriate — showing humanity. 

Some jokes are too soon, some jokes should never be told. Some remarks can easily be misread when they move beyond a copywriter cranking out 50 emails a week. 

Somewhere in the process from strategy to creative to flight, there must be a simple check to determine if the marketing has potentially lost its humanity or might be taken the wrong way by the audience. 

Should we censor ourselves and not touch hot topics at all? No, I am not advocating this at all. I am advocating a little more judgment, a little more internal review and debate and, ultimately, a little more humanity.

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