(Opinion) Tone-deaf advertising

As more and more companies turn to online advertising as a way to promote their services to consumers, the advertisements being produced and disseminated are becoming increasingly important. Ads must appeal to their target audience and convince consumers that a given product is worth spending money on. Even in an age when advertisements are highly personalized and what each person sees is determined by technical and computer-based algorithms, advertisements must have mass appeal and be sensitive to cultural issues. In an era when so much effort is placed on consumer outreach, tone-deaf marketing cannot be tolerated.

Even still, popular culture is littered with examples of advertisements that become ridiculed for their lack of understanding of how the world would perceive them. Last year, Nivea ran an ad that genuinely centered the phrase “White is Purity” and of course there was Kendall Jenner’s classic Pepsi ad — all the world’s problems can be solved with a can of Pepsi.  

Tone-deaf advertisements make companies seem out of touch with the consumers that they wish  to appeal to, and incapable of thinking about what kind of messages they convey to the world. There is absolutely no justification for them being published. The algorithms that decide which advertisements we see based on our Google searches, Facebook likes and websites we visit are incredibly complicated and require a great deal of work to create and maintain. So much effort goes into effective marketing, but it often seems like the message itself is overlooked.

This is not to say that advertisements that target specific audiences are the reason for advertising problems — these advertisements make sure potential customers are exposed to products they might actually want and let businesses focus their resources more efficiently. My issue is that nowadays, while so much work goes into strategically marketing a product or brand, we still deal with ads that lead us to think companies’ executive leaders have no idea what they’re doing.

My message to advertisers, then, is to spend more time worrying about how out of touch their messages can appear.  Advertisers should worry less about targeted advertising and more about creating ads that send the message a company really wants to spread. This would certainly improve advertisements’ quality and lessen the chance of major scandal.

Focus groups can help advertisers to figure out if they’re sending the right message, making them a great resource that should clearly be used more often. I feel that a focus group could have very quickly and easily seen that Nivea’s “White is Purity” advertisement, for instance, would be received with a less-than-enthusiastic response. Further, much of the criticism received by companies about their tone-deaf advertising comes from the internet. Looking online for examples of consumers’ past grievances could likely help companies produce more sensitive and effective advertisements.

Advertisers’ focus on specifically targeted marketing has allowed companies to be more efficient with where and to whom they advertise. If the amount of effort and focus that went into the development of that kind of advertising could go into creating more sensitive and less tone-deaf advertising, companies would face far less ridicule.

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