Duluth’s Un-Fair Campaign: Marketing Blunder of the Year

Un-Fair Campaign Billboard, Image from PerfectDuluthDay.com
Un-Fair Campaign Billboard, Image from PerfectDuluthDay.com

Off to a slightly rocky start? Well no wonder. The recent “Un-Fair Campaign” in Duluth features billboards and advertisements that say “It’s hard to see racism when you’re white.”

Offended? Yeah, I was too a little. I’m not blind or stupid, so just what exactly is this ad saying about me and my whiteness? Many people have taken this initial “ouch” reaction a bit far (our mayor has received threats); they feel this campaign is meant to say, “white people suck.” I think it is simply an example of really bad marketing. REALLY bad marketing.

According to the Duluth News Tribune the Un-Fair Campaign’s goal is to get people to recognize that racism still exists and that non-caucasian people have more barriers in life than caucasian people do. They want to educate people and to get the community involved in solving the problem in open and honest dialogue.

Fair enough, that’s an admirable goal! So why create an ad campaign that will immediately put people on the defensive? Great move, guys. Really. I couldn’t have thought of a better way to accomplish the exact opposite of your goals any better myself. Using offense and shock as a tactic is often used by ad agencies to get people’s attention, however it’s not always the best way to do it; in fact it’s NEVER the best way to grab attention when you want people to come together and talk in peace. In fact, I think the only place that does work is in fashion. But this is not fashion. This is a serious matter in need of some serious attention and this In-your-face-let’s-surprise-them-with-uncomfortableness method of advertising has had the unintended consequence of building walls instead of breaking them down. It has hindered communication, community involvement, and problem solving rather than to facilitate these admirable things. No one’s going to come to to the proverbial table when they are publicized on billboards across the city as being the, or part of the, problem!

I don’t disagree with the goals of the campaign at all, I just recognize that the PR firm hired to create this campaign’s initial “Hello World!” image has done their jobs very, very poorly. They didn’t invite anyone to open, honest discussion. They told us that white people are blind; they laid the first brick in the non-communication wall; or all the bricks in that wall. Now people are set up to go into discussion about the issue already assuming that everyone thinks they’re wrong, and therefore needing to prove themselves to be right. No one can keep an open mind with that attitude, and no one is going to be very willing to give the benefit of the doubt to anyone, so why on earth would the creators of the campaign get people in that state-of-mind right off the bat? It makes no sense!

And what continues to baffle me is that they try to explain themselves by saying things like, “there are people who are unconscious about some of the advantages white people have,” and, “[our purpose is] to get people to look at how… white people get advantages, and people who don’t have white skin don’t get those same advantages.” Ok, great. That’s fine, I’ll concede that people still judge based on skin color, but perhaps the invitation to the discussion table should not start off with, “white people are all blind.” Maybe, instead, mention some facts, some specific examples of how racism has recently negatively impacted a citizen of our community. Obviously you would not use names or identifiable information, but you get the idea. If you want to raise awareness of the problem, don’t just tell people that they don’t know about the problem—that’s not helpful. Tell us what the problem is, specifically. Maybe ask a question, rather than make an antagonistic statement. If there’s too much to say, and you want people to visit the website for more info, you could say something like “Racism is hard to see. Visit http://www.ourwebsite.com for details.” See? MUCH less offensive. Doesn’t single out any group, but still uses the “hard to see” theme and has a clear call to action, inviting people to find out more at the website.

Look at me, I’m a regular Mad Man… Woman. Except I don’t smoke… or drink a whole lot of scotch…






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