Lessons from stereotypes on connecting with your consumer.

By Amber Hudson and Luke Sklar

Last week, in our Linspiration blog, we wrote about Ben & Jerry’s attempt to celebrate the Chinese American basketball star Jeremy Lin by offering a frozen yogurt with fortune cookies and lychee swirls.  People flipped out, the product was changed and Luke and I began to think everyone needed to chill the hell out.  But many of our colleagues agreed the product was completely insensitive and should never have been launched.  Huh?  Did we miss something?  Luke and I are not mean, insensitive people.   I’ve heard the jokes and experienced the stereotypes (as in,  you can’t drive like a man, you can’t drink like a man, you can’t throw like a man.  Try me).  And Luke…he’s definitely seen and heard it all.

But if we can laugh at ourselves, why can’t everyone else?  Why has the world become so sensitive?  It’s gotten to the point that we’re afraid (afraid!) to say Merry Christmas.  Well, we think PC is boring.  And as a result the marketing world has become PC, plain and characterless.  In this dreary sea of sameness, there are  examples of brands that try to stand out.  Here are a few examples.  Funny or insensitive?  Innocently trying to breaking through, or using stereotypes to the disadvantage of others?  You tell us.

Madhouse Pants: Almost sprayed out my tea when I saw this.

Duncan Hines:  Racist cupcakes?!?!

Axe: To some this is insulting to women.  To others it’s a highly successful product beautifully targeted to young men.

Levy’s:  Offensive, or just an honest message?

Heeb Magazine: Anti-Semitic, or an engaging commentary on Jewish life and culture?

Crappy Pictures: Hilarious parenting blog that makes light of what are normally exasperating parent-kid moments.   In one post the author said she feeds her kids “M&M’S® in chocolate milk for breakfast.” Clearly a joke, but she felt compelled to include a disclaimer.  Probably so her inbox wouldn’t become flooded with contemptuous emails from humourless readers.

The marketing lessons:

  1. Know your target and deliver against a compelling insight (our colleague Melanie just wrote a great blog on the power of the simple insight).
  2. Have a strategy and a voice.  Then stick to it.  You cannot, and should not, satisfy everyone.
  3. Don’t take the safe route.  Push boundaries. We all know if you try to pull back and please everybody , you end up exciting nobody.
  4. Don’t be afraid to use humour.  There’s always someone who doesn’t get the joke.

At the end of the day, there is indeed a fine line between humour and insult.  We just need to use our open-minded Canadian sensibility and laugh at ourselves once in a while.