How Much Do We Need to Worry About Offending People?

According to Frank PR founder Graham Goodkind, the answer is “very little, if at all.

His point is that–returning, once again, to that old cliche about good and bad publicity–complaints and even outright bans are signs that a campaign is working because it’s attracting attention. Risk is simply something that we must learn to handle.

Here’s an example: it’s hard to imagine a more potentially disastrous campaign than one looking to unite customers in India and Pakistan. Yet Coke’s 2013 stunt seems to have gone off without a hitch:

Yes, this was a well-produced, well-contained campaign by one of the world’s largest companies, but it speaks to Goodkind’s point: we need to learn to expect blowback.

At the same time, even Goodkind says there’s a limit to this rule about shrugging off accusations of insensitivity.

His most recent example of a campaign taking offense too far is this one, run by UK gambling company Paddy Power:


We think you’ll agree that making light of a capital murder trial is never a good idea–even for a betting company.

Goodkind is also right in advising agencies to anticipate blacklash and prepare appropriate responses.

The question, though: should we aspire to get a rise out of our audiences? How can we quantify the risk of a bad reception?

The success of a given stunt–however risky–may come down to brand recognition. Everyone remembers Oprah’s “new car” moment, but no one remembers which car she gave away.

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.