A Dangerous Combination

Politics + Advertising: A Dangerous Combination

Have you heard of Shane Gillis? He was a recent SNL hire, but you never saw him perform there. Gillis was fired in September before he even took the stage due to some ‘discriminatory comments’ he made in an earlier comedy routine.

His firing was controversial. The comments Gillis made in the now-deleted video explicitly mocked Chinese immigrant—to the point where he poorly imitated a Chinese accent. Of course, SNL was reluctant to paint itself with that same discriminatory brush.

However, some vocal individuals claim blame an aura of “political correctness” for Gillis firing, saying that this modern environment makes it difficult for comedians—or anyone—to express their opinions without fear of repercussions.

Modern audiences are more aware (and sometimes hyper-aware) of a history of discrimination and ostracization against minority demographics, and the ways in which this history still resonates today. Whether you’re a comic performing on national television, or a marketing looking to make your ad campaigns more contemporary, you need to tread with caution. When advertising gets political, you’re taking a risky path.


So, is it Safe to Use Politics for Advertising?

Do we live in an era of strict political correctness? That’s up for debate. But with this audience awareness in mind, we all have to be more careful with the ways we politicize our advertisements.

If you’re looking to avoid Gillis-ing an ad, what can you do?


1. Do Your Research

First: Of course, you need to solidly know your demographic. Whom are you targeting with your ads? Which audience is your business aiming to attract?

Second: Both before and after drafting ad copy, do some digging online. When you’re making jokes, understand their context. If you’re using data, make sure you’ve retrieved it from an unbiased source. Using a meme? Make sure it hasn’t been co-opted by white supremacist groups.

This kind of effort may seem unnecessary, but researching your rhetoric will prevent a controversy in the long run.



2. Test Your Ads on Different Groups

A/B testing helps you predict an ad’s success. You can use A/B testing to debut potential ads and see how your audience will respond to them. If you’re concerned about the content of one of your ads, test two versions to get audience opinions on your work.

You can also solicit the help of test groups in and outside your office. Make sure you run your ad past people of different demographics – age, race, sexual orientation and so on – so they can point out flaws or missteps that you might have otherwise missed. Politics are highly subjective, but your advertising shouldn’t be.


3. Politics + Advertising = Punch Up

There aren’t many rules in comedy, but there are plenty in advertising. If you’re looking to integrate humor into your ads but you’re not sure if you’re writing something offensive, ask yourself: are we punching up?

“Punching up” is the process of making fun of someone or something that holds more power than you do. It’s an English major making fun of his college’s football team for the amount of funding it gets, or a cheerleader making fun of the makeup industry for the pressure it puts on young women.

It is not a white comedian making fun of minorities who have faced a long history of discrimination in the United States. In that same vein, it is not a company making fun of its audience.

Punching up takes forethought, but it will also keep you from advertising scandal down the road. As the news grows more politically tense, joking in your advertising is one of the best ways to bond with an audience that doesn’t know what to make of the world around them. Just make sure you’re doing it safely.

Image attribution: beeboys – stock.adobe.com