Going on the offensive
A view from Claire Beale

Going on the offensive

The Cadbury Easter egg row underlines the challenges marketers face treading the line of acceptability in a world where offence has become a codifier.

There’s a sweet irony to the Cadbury Easter egg row. Just days after some of our biggest advertisers took a stand against YouTube for allowing their ads to be seen against offensive content, one advertiser’s own marketing efforts have managed to cause public offence. 

Cadbury’s decision to drop the word Easter from its Egg Hunts with the National Trust has teed off the Church of England and the prime minister. 

Will these offended parties withdraw support for Cadbury in protest? The Archbishop of York and Theresa May might only spend a few pounds on Cadbury eggs this Easter, but it’s the principle of the thing, isn’t it?

Anyway, I don’t wish to conflate Cadbury’s ham-fisted attempts at religion-neutrality with atrocities available on YouTube. But the Easter egg farrago does underline the challenges all marketers face treading the line of acceptability in a world where offence has become a codifier. 

It’s easier to distribute and discover offensive material, while those taking offence have more platforms from which to rally others to join them in their outrage. 

And it’s easier to unintentionally cause offence when you’re producing more communications than ever. We live in a world where marketers have been schooled in ceding some control of their brand comms to their customers, while at the same time creating more and more content of their own (often quickly and cheaply and without the quality standards that marketers used to hold themselves accountable to). 

Is it any wonder brands not only find their marketing nudging against outrageous content but can also find themselves thoughtlessly responsible for causing the offence?

Of course, an awful lot of brand content slips by unnoticed – ineffective and irrelevant, unlikely to move anyone to feel anything. But for the marketers who have been bold enough to view content creation as a serious investment and part of a long-term brand-building strategy, the stakes are higher and the potential rewards for their business commensurate. 

When Nils Leonard, Nicolas Winding Refn and the judges of our first Brand Film Festival London sat down to watch hour upon hour of content created by brands, the criteria for success was not just around the quality of concept, script, direction. The entries were also judged against whether the content itself had a good enough reason to exist and whether it served a real brand purpose and business need. 

The best brand content (and what marketing communication isn’t brand content, really?) hits a quality bar, engages customers and answers a business challenge. It might even cause controversy. One thing it won’t do is be ignored. 

Claire Beale is global editor-in-chief of Campaign.