Friday, February 1, 2013

Be careful what you say and how you say it!

By: Cole Buergi, VP of Business Development

Like years past, as we approach the Super Bowl weekend, the buzz is growing on what will be better, the game or the commercials during the game.

Although there has been plenty of headline stories this past week about the “Big” game including it being the first time two brother’s will coach against each other, there has also been headlines about a the new Volkswagen Beetle commercial.

Yes, you read it correctly, the Beetle. That sweet, adorable speed bump looking car, is making headlines. Not really the car itself, but the context of the commercial promoting the car.

The commercial’s theme is that owning a Beetle is a relaxing experience and that life is good if you drive one. Throughout the one minute spot, a guy that owns a new Beetle walks throughout his office building, offering relaxing or encouraging messages, in a Jamaican accent, to his stressed out co-workers. Phrases like, “No worries mon, everything will be awlright” and “Don’t fret me brotha,” roll off the actor’s tongue in the accent synonymous with the island of relaxation.

The commercial has raised a concern by some that it is racist by poking fun at a specific race of people. Fortunately for Volkswagen, officials from Jamaica have weighed, expressing their appreciation for the commercial and how it perpetuates the island of Jamaica’s brand as a place of total relaxation.

Although it appears there will be no adverse impact to Volkswagen, largely because the Jamaican government has come out in support of the commercial, the recent incident is a good reminder to all PR and marketing professionals. What may be funny to some is not always funny to everyone. And, in some cases, may seem insensitive or racist even if there if there was no malicious intent.

As practitioners of language and the way we use it to persuade our audiences, we have a responsibility to ensure that we are not offending others. Words and how we use them can be very hurtful and we have to be mindful that our message should not alienate or disrespect others. That being said, I do think that everyone needs to ease back on the sensitivity level.

What are your thoughts on the commercial? Does if offend you? Have you ever written something that turned out to be offensive to some when you had no idea it would be?

In closing, I hope you enjoy the game (and commercials) and feel free to weigh in on your favorite commercial after the game.

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