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Taking Care with Language When Your Product is Controversial

Often it’s impossible to tell when your product or company is going to cause a negative stir in the public arena. Unless you set out to stir the pot, it’s usually a complete and unpleasant surprise that blindsides you. A big controversy can cause your entire company to panic and question, at least for a moment, everything you’re doing. 

Oops signHowever, sometimes it’s possible to anticipate a backlash. Some businesses enjoy selling items that get people’s goats and thrive off of it. Others know their products are controversial and choose to run with them and see if they can get away with it.

If this is you, then you have a pretty strong advantage with your PR. Knowing something could ruffle feathers ahead of time means you’ll never be caught off guard, (which is when the vast majority of mistakes are made). You also know to be careful with everything you do, as a slip up could be costly.

One area to be careful in is language. When your customers and the public at large are already scrutinizing everything you do, saying the wrong thing could be extra damaging. Here are a few things to look out for.

Ambiguity 

It’s important to know exactly what you mean when writing anything for your controversial company, including blogs, Facebook posts, or even company emails. The worst thing that could happen is you write a blog about one thing and everyone else (or even just one person) perceives something completely different.

For example, let’s say your company is selling vitamins to help you stay awake and alert throughout the day. However, they’re not approved by the FDA and you can’t make any claims of actual “health” benefits from the vitamins. If you do, you could run into legal trouble.

You might write a blog post about how great you feel when taking the vitamins, but some people – up to and including government regulatory agencies – might take your words as an endorsement of the health benefits of the vitamins. Not being clear that you mean staying awake during the day is healthy versus the vitamins actually being healthy could result in big trouble with your company.

Offensive 

This is a sticky situation as many companies enjoy skating the line between being actually offensive and telling jokes or being silly. So it’s hard to say “don’t be offensive” because sometimes that’s the point – and edgy humor works very well for certain brands.

But this is why being careful with what you’re saying and how you’re saying is important. Again since you know you’re going with the “bad boy” image you can stay ahead of the game and be ready with responses to your actions.

Remember the energy drink Cocaine? The name was already potentially offensive and controversial enough, but they went a little too far over the line when they introduced the “Cut” version of it and used a font that seemed to indicate there was actual cocaine in the drink. Since a lot of teenagers drink energy drinks the controversy spread quickly and Cocaine was forced to change.

Skating this line is fine, but if the makers of the drink had thought about it for a minute they likely would’ve reconsidered. It was just a step too far and they could’ve better prepared for the obviously incoming controversy

Do you consider the products you sell controversial at all? Have you ever deliberately skirted controversy? 

This article is written by Mickie Kennedy, founder of eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. Download your free copy of 8 Shocking Secrets Press Release Distribution Firms Don’t Want You to Know here: http://www.ereleases.com/landing3.html

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