Why you can’t be too careful about the words you choose

Cultural appropriation? Just ask Kim Kardashian West.

In these culturally sensitive times, only those businesses operating in an alternative space and time continuum would risk serious brand damage by falling foul of the PC police. Still, that didn’t stop one Kim Kardashian West recently choosing the name ‘Kimono’ for her latest range of shapewear. Claims of it being ‘a play on words’ fell on millions of deaf ears and the Kimono name vanished faster than you can say “My corset is killing me.” So, just how can ordinary businesses avoid attracting the unexpected ire of the public?

The first rule is, don’t be idiotic. It seems incredible to have to point that out, but sadly some advertising agencies missed the memo. Take Ogilvy India, for example. They developed a series of three advertisements depicting famous figures who, despite adversity, had been able to ‘Bounce Back’ after experiencing the superior comfort of a Kurl-On mattress. The most astonishing version of the ad featured a graphic depiction of Malala Yousafzai – yes, that Malala – falling down after being shot in the head before bouncing triumphantly upward to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Who amongst us could have even imagined the restorative powers inherent in a quality inner spring?

It gets worse. Still on the Asian subcontinent, and according to the Hindustan Times, in 2007 a Mumbai home furnishing business promoted ‘The Nazi Collection’ line of bed linen, complete with a natty swastika logo. Even more recently, Merrut-based MVF Products seemed genuinely taken aback to have caused offence by producing their ‘Hitler Ice Cream’, featuring an image of the great ‘social reformer’ himself. Both companies expressed surprise that anyone would care. The point is, of course, that consumers do care.

Whilst we agree it’s not likely that too many companies are likely to go to such lengths to promote their services, you can never be too careful about the words you choose for your business communications, especially when you’re operating in another culture.

In addition to taking an extraordinary level of care, employing both a proofreader and a local professional writer to check for sensitive content may well be the way to go.

For help with copywriting, proofreading or editing any of your business documents, contact Proof Communications on 02 8036 5532 or 0411 123 216 or head to the contact page.

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