Several years ago I saw a billboard for a furniture store with the slogan that read, “For the discriminating buyer”. You cannot say that today. Any reference to discrimination has been eliminated from all advertising vocabulary. Marketers must be ultra sensitive, so as not to offend anyone in today’s political correct climate. The worst offence is to be labeled a “racist”. Promoters have gone overboard to include Afro-Americans in their advertisements. Just about every TV commercial with three or more people includes at least one minority. And there are many black only ads. Even though the Black population in the US is 13.2%, they are represented 25% to 40% in advertising. This PC trend is one element in the effort to amend the white guilt of slavery.
There is a dilemma on proper terminology. At one time “Colored People” was an acceptable term, as in the NAACP. Then “Negro” was OK, as in United Negro College Fund which gave way to “Black” as in Black Entertainment Network”, and was then replaced with “Afro-American”. So as to be Politically Correct proper terminology must be used so as not to offend.
Political Correctness has made its presence know in product marketing. In 1893 Aunt Jemima Pancake Mix was introduced and has been successful sold over the years, although the package design has been updated. But in June 2015, an associate professor in the Africana Studies and Research Center at Cornell University has called for the removal of the product, as it harkened back to the days of slavery. Along the same line, Uncle Ben’s Converted Rice is being criticized because Uncle Ben is black even though it was first marketed in 1943, it represents slavery to a few hyper sensitive folks.
It only takes a few people, in some cases one, to be offended and impact a multi-million dollar market. Recently a descendent, claiming to be of Native American heritage, became insulted by athletic team names like the Redskins. Because of the controversy, the Washington Redskins merchandise has dropped 35%, as some concerned fans did not want to be called racist for wearing a Redskins T-Shirt. Yielding to Political Correctness, many high schools have abandoned Native American names. The impact on the market is huge.
Gender sensitivity is on the rise. I can remember the term “man of the house” in advertising, referring to the head of the household. That phrase is no longer in Vogue. Feminists started the movement attempting to castrate masculine marketing, and now the LGBT movement has joined in. With 96.6% of the population, heterosexuals are pressured to yield to the 1.6%, because someone gets offended easily. In advertising, the copywriters need to be mindful in employing neutral sex references.
The Left has created Politically Correct labels for those who do not advocate for their causes. A phobia is an unreasonable fear of something. There are many phobias, however, I know of no one who lives in fear of homosexuals, yet the term Homophobe is commonly used to describe anyone who does not endorse the gay lifestyle. Xenophobia is the fear of foreigners. So if you are opposed to illegal immigrants pouring across our borders, you might be a Xenophobe. In either case you a have phobia, or an abnormal psychological malady according to the PC crowd.
Probably the most impacted market by Political Correctness is Christmas. Just 3.1% of all Americans are Atheist, 5.9% are non-Christian, and 70.6% are Christian, yet a minority has put enough pressure on marketers to get 49% to embrace “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” over “Merry Christmas”. For fear of not being PC and offending sombody, some retailers are not displaying Christmas decorations and greet customers with “Happy Holidays”. This has caused a backlash from traditionalists, as many shoppers have walked out of stores that refuse to recognize Christmas.
For every action there is an opposite and equal reaction. So marketers must weight the odds on what slant they will employ in their marketing. If your marketing strategy attempts to be 100% politically correct you will still run the risk of offending someone. We live in a hypersensitive world where a misinterpreted phrase or graphic can have devastating affects on a marketer’s image and bottom line. Walking the line of Political Correctness requires a marketing professional to create and produce the right message and a PR agency to mitigate any damage.