Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Polite-ically Correct

I'm sure I am not alone in having a knee-jerk reaction whenever the words 'Politically (In)Correct' are uttered in the course of my work in marketing and advertising.

But when I ask myself why I react so strongly, the answer is hard to find. I suppose the words catalyse a mindset of what I see as restrictive, creativity-killing concepts: the Nanny State, over-sensitvity, social justice warriors, virtue signallers and the chattering classes in general. By which I mean all those people forever harping on in their Facebook and Twitter bubbles, who think that 'doing good' is hurling a few pounds at some crowd-funded JustGiving cause, rather than making the effort to get up and visit an elderly neighbour, or spend a weekend clearing rubbish from woodland.

However, the idea of treating everyone we reach or want to communicate with in a fair and respectful way is one to which I certainly subscribe. How can you write ads that make people laugh, cry, cheer when you're sneering at them behind their backs? (Or behind the one-way mirror in the research studio?)

I've found an excellent article in The School of Life  which addresses this issue. A mid-way between joining the Politically Correct Brigade and beating them up is suggested, which involves the (somewhat forgotten) idea of Politeness. The author/s of the article point out the similarities and differences between Politeness and Political Correctness. The differences that resonated with me are as follows. Politeness is:

1. Universal, not selective
2. About action, not thought
3. Apolitical.

Politeness is an aspiration, not a legal requirement, and perhaps we should see this too in the way our brands communicate. Brands don't have to be polite in their words and actions - and, indeed, some audiences and sectors have little need for courtesy in its traditional sense.

But I remain convinced that a basic understanding of and empathy with your audience, whatever their political beliefs, or whatever majority or minority they belong to, a fundamental respect for fellow human beings, makes for far more effective communication.

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