CMU School of Drama

Friday, September 23, 2016

“Offend and Apologize” Doesn’t Benefit The Arts

Arts Integrity Initiative: In recent years, it’s been suggested that some companies and organizations have intentionally caused upset through a statement or product, only to quickly recant, for the express purpose of getting two press “hits” out of one incident, in the process demonstrating their responsiveness to their customers or the population at large. As a one-time publicist, admittedly in the lower-stakes world of not-for-profit theatre, I’ve never been entirely convinced that this is a valid or even calculated strategy, or that it benefits the “offender” in any way.

24 comments:

Annie Scheuermann said...

This is the first time where I have finally seen a publicized writing that analyses the recent shaming of arts professions in the media. When the Old Navy clothes came out, I must have seen 20 Facebook rants, each saying how horrible it was and not to discourage the arts. I really appreciate how the author looks at the situation from an outside perspective that doesn't just spew hate. It tries to follow the thought process of what lead to the product or ad, and the after math with the apologizes or not. I really don't like to believe in the putting something out their you don't believe in just to gain attention. I like to think that anything any one creates is something they believe in, however that is an ignorant idea in society. This article reminds me of the big controversy over Miley Cyrus when she performed. It made a big statement, some were offended, some said let art be art, and some said she did it for attention. Its a big issue now over what is done for attention to be turned into profit and what is done for art with self expression. I don't know where my views stand by I am interested to hear others.

Kelly Simons said...

I can understand the new marketing technique of offending in order to get your product out there. It makes sense; if Apple makes a controversial product their name will be plastered everywhere. Not everyone will see the bad part of their publicity, but the brad Apple will be stuck in consumer’s minds. This sticking usually causes larger sales after a controversy is released. However, when a company makes a controversy by poking fun at another company or work that is unacceptable. The marketing campaigns from Old Navy and Wells Fargo blatantly put down the arts in order to build up more science-based careers. This is telling the public that not only do these companies not care about the arts and the people who create them, but the public shouldn’t either. I’m lucky that my parents have always supported my aspirations, but if they didn’t and I saw one of those Old Navy shirts I would feel personally attacked.

Rachel said...

This article is a bit strange and all over the place, but it does highlight the presence of offensive value systems within and without the arts.

The author, unfortunately, conflates deliberate and unintentional offensiveness in marketing. There are plenty of companies out there who DO intentionally offend people for the sake of generating more hits and publicity, but I don’t think that’s true of Old Navy and Wells Fargo.

Which is somehow worse. They didn’t consider their ads offensive because it’s still a widely accepted notion that the arts are somehow less useful, less meaningful, and a signifier that someone lacks ambition. They didn’t consider it offensive because their worldview (unsurprisingly held by a bank and a large national corporation) defines success in terms of money and ‘marketable’ skills.

The casting notice, which was heinous, comes from the very same place. It’s an assumed devaluation. It’s most disappointing because the offensiveness IS unintentional. It’s casual. It’s printed in magazines and on clothes and in casting notices because it’s somehow is accepted enough to still pass by several sets of eyes that see nothing wrong.

Sarah Boyle said...

The Old Navy and Wells Fargo ads seem to have been intended to be inspirational, not to get negative attention. In the case of the Old Navy t-shirts, why couldn’t they just say young aspiring whatever career instead of putting down a different job in the process? I absolutely make starving artist jokes, but that isn’t even a joke, it’s just a pointless insult. I have seen the Wells Fargo ad campaign before. At the time I assumed it was catering to parents who want their kids to go into practical STEM careers instead of the arts, which is annoying, but common. However, I completely disagree with the author arguing that these kinds of products and advertisements are about the cool kids insulting the arts nerds. I think Old Navy had a misguided attempt at female empowerment and Wells Fargo was framing arts careers as childhood dreams. (Really, being an actor that much nerdier than being a botanist?) I’m not offended by these examples, but they aren’t the same as a starving artist joke. These examples are a symptom of a STEM over arts mentality. That mentality is why arts programs keep getting cut in public schools. One isn’t better than the other.

Lucy Scherrer said...

It's clear that if we want these sorts of isolated incidents to stop, we need to attack the bigger problem: a lack of respect for the arts and artistic professions. In the case of the Wells Fargo and Old Navy incidents, I think that stems from associating art with childlike, immature, and undeveloped sensibilities. In both campaigns, it seems as though the arts were "square one", and higher career choices were just beyond them (astronaut, president, etc). What's interesting is that no competing brands (other kids' clothing distributors in the case of Old Navy, and other banks in the case of Wells Fargo) have released ad campaigns that champion artists. It's interesting that this article mentioned the Misty Copeland ad, because I remember that when it was released people were losing their minds over it as one of the first mainstream ads to portray an artist as a highly skilled professional instead of someone trying to get somewhere else. On that train of thought, I think it's also worth mentioning the Vogue ad that was just released last week with Kendall Jenner pretending to be a ballet dancer as she bounced around wearing ballet-like clothes talking about how she loves to "let go" and act like a kid again. While not as blatantly anti-artist as the two campaigns mentioned in this article, I think this is the exact kind of thing that fosters those negative opinions: artists portrayed as "just having fun" and not serious about their craft.

Samantha Brown said...

The Arts have gotten a bad rap for a long time for being the thing people do in their free time or for people who are not smart enough to do anything else. It is often said that you do not make a lot of money working in the arts and you will be living on the street and working as a waiter on the side to make money. It seems like those views are changing a little, until we see ads from big corporate companies that are shaming the arts. I do not understand why companies need to put down one career path just to boost up another that is more popular. We are supposed to be telling kids that they should be able to do whatever they want in their future and follow their dreams and passion. When a big company like Wells Fargo or Old Navy is telling kids that being an artist is bad and they should try something else to be successful, it is very concerning. Shaming of the arts needs to stop because without the arts our world would be a very different and sad place.

Lia Jennings said...

I don’t understand why companies or people even would think it is better to apologize than ask for permission. If you know an ad is going to offend a larger group of people then don’t publicize it! Don’t put it out in the world and then be ready for your apology that you know you’ll have to give. Yes your name may be in the news more because of what is being said but don’t you think people aren’t going to use your product because you disrespect a group of people? That would turn me away from something. And maybe you don’t know that your ad is going to offend people, but then make a true apology. Take the time to say sorry and show that you are working towards taking it away and that you never meant to offend in the first place. Even though Wells Fargo may not have chosen the best ad they at least apologized correctly. Explaining their side but still living up to the fact that they messed up and didn’t want to do that. It seems truthful and not lazy.

Jasmine Lesane said...

This is a great article because when the news first broke of the Wells fargo scandal I was trying to explain why to my boyfriend that this problem has more significance than it seems, because at this point it doesn’t really seem like a mistake. But I couldn’t remember offhand other examples of large companies belittling the fine arts. This one sums it all up for me. I completely agree with this authors analysis of “non-apology apologies” but gladly I think more and more people are not accepting those as enough, which is why Beach Blanket Babylon was pushed to release a second, more complete apology. But what this article brings up that is not often talked about is how we hold these companies accountable after their apologies. We can’t forget. When BBB posts things about how they prefer casting white people they gave us a red flag of their racist practices. We can’t accept an apology as a green light to let them just keep doing the same things.

Aubrey Sirtautas said...

I think the author has failed to separate two fundamentally different errors in judgment by companies. The large corporations that are poking fun at the arts community and those who choose to make a career in the arts are making egregious errors in marketing choices. I believe that the first instance when this came around in modern discussion (the AT&T ad) was an actual mistake. However, it is hard to believe that the companies that followed in AT&Ts footsteps did not know what they were doing, or alternatively, knew what they were doing and chose to do so anyway despite the consequence. This points to a distinct need to forward the discussion about the artistic community as an area where real careers exist.

The casting notice falls into an entirely different category in my opinion. Casting notices failing to face diversity issues with sensitivity or blatantly being racist falls more into the public conscience because of all the crimes that have been in the media as of late. This is a civil rights violation and a failure of the arts community to support its own.

Rebecca Meckler said...

While I think it's great that companies want to encourage people to have careers in science, I think that their is a better way to do it. There is no need to push someone down to pull someone else up. We can help everyone by encouraging people who want to be artists as well as people who want to be astronauts. The beauty in this world is that there are options for people who like everyone. Nevertheless, apologizing only works so many times. We need companies to learn from example, the way we expect people to. We need to hold companies, especially ones like Old Navy and Wells Fargo, to a higher standard because they are influencing people. I also worry that with the companies will see how much publicity they can get, and start to offend people on purpose. To me that's worse, because they are willing to hurt people to make a profit. I hope companies don’t make that choice and decide to be more aware and sensitive.

Claire Farrokh said...

I just want to know who is sitting at these meetings and actually saying "Hey you know what would be a good idea? Let's offend a very large group of people and then issue a meaningless apology to get more publicity!" Like literally who comes up with these ideas? All it does is alienate a huge group of people and lose all possible sales from that group of people. And the apology for an action will never get anywhere near as much publicity as the action itself. I had heard of almost all of the offensive advertisements in the article, but I had not heard of any of their accompanying apologies. Even Wells Fargo, which was very recent - I knew that a lot of people got fired, but I had not heard about any official apology being released. I just do not understand how so many major companies can have such collectively stupid marketing teams that so many idiotic campaigns have made their way into public circulation. For companies like Old Navy and Wells Fargo, at the very least fifteen people must have okayed those ideas. How could ALL of these people completely missed the idea that maybe some people would be offended by their careers being belittled and shown as a form of failure. You can say "no publicity is bad publicity," but in cases like these I think that is very untrue.

noah hull said...

I’ve never understood the mindset behind thinking that offending people and then offering an apology of varying levels of sincerity (normally not very) is a good plan. Sure it gets a business in the news more but its normally because the business is being criticized, and then sometimes criticized again after apologizing if their apology was too transparently insincere, like the first apology from Beach Blanket Babylon. Sure you’re getting your name in the news but who really wants publicity like that? I find it hard to believe that intentionally offending a group of people and then apologizing could actually bring in enough customers to be worth the amount of criticism. I would say that I think its more plausible that people in these marketing departments are just making bone headed decisions and then sometimes dropping the ball with the apology rather than an intentional business strategy. But given how often it feels like it has to be something intentional, after all if it wasn’t wouldn’t all of these companies be double checking their adds far more carefully by now?

Tahirah Agbamuche said...

Whenever I see a controversial advertisement, my first thought is, "How would you not predict that this would make people furious?" Or, "Why would you think this was an okay thing to say?" I now have the answer to those questions; They chaos is 100% intentional, which is so odd to me. Why is offense being used as a marketing technique? Are people so desperate for attention that they must belittle and trample others in the process. Outrage has now become a weapon, and that's extremely disappointing. The fact that the arts are the subject that is being targeted breaks my heart. The first image states that we must, "get them ready for tomorrow" as if being an artist, a ballerina, is a childhood game. This is naturally disrespectful to artists, as I'm sure the creators are well aware of, but it's extremely unprofessional in my opinion to seek personal gains on the heads of others.

Alex Talbot said...

In my opinion this was a fantastic and insightful article on this issue--one that seems to be coming up a lot in recent years in the arts community, especially with the Wells Fargo ad that was recently redacted. In my opinion, the Wells Fargo ad was not as bad as it was hyped up to be. To me, it seems clear that the company made an accidental blunder that the marketing team did not catch or think about. The company sincerely apologized and it seems like there was no harm done. But in the other instances the articles mentioned, especially casting calls that were clearly discriminating. These are clearly destructive to the theatre community, and should not have a place in the arts community, and I hope that in the future the community will strive to push out calls like these.

evan Schild said...

Usually when I see campaigns of that nature I get very confused on who would okay the ad. Many people get offended each time a company makes an ad of that nature.Just because they promote there on values does not mean they should bring down another persons. For instance with the Wells Fargo ad instead of bring down an artist to become what ever career they think is better is not okay. And just because they offer an apology after does not make it okay. Even the BBB apology was not even a real apology they were not sorry for anything they were sorry that you got offered. These type of ads need to stop

Sophie Chen said...

What baffles me the most when it comes to ad campaigns or products that demeans and berates a profession in the arts is that an artist designed that campaign/product. The fashion/graphic designer of old navy's t-shirts that crossed out the word "artist" and replaced it with "president" or "astronaut" is an artist, and so is the person who designed the Wells Fargo ad campaign. I never saw any detailed follow ups of Wells Fargo so I'm glad that they apologized with a genuine attitude and it seems like they are actually sorry for what they did. On the other hand, corporations who only apologize for the fact that whatever was stated "bothered some people" and not for what they wrote or what their sentiments were is just as bad as not apologizing at all. This reminds me of boys in elementary school who do something mean and then say sorry without meaning it at all, which is just immature. At the same time, as sad as it is, I can completely see these companies being intentional in doing so to attract attention (which is even more immature).

Nick Waddington said...


I was very taken aback when i saw the wells fargo ad because i was confused who thought that an ad like that could be okay, and because of the growing trend of arts being pushed to the side for the promotion of STEM. personally, at my high school, many arts programs were de-funded, the wood shop, ceramics, and more diverse art classes gave way for biotechnology, and computer science. In high school this is bad because it offers little vent for creativity, and shows kids that they are not supported in their artistic interests. however coming back to the ad, it confuses me that they would put something like this into their ad because of the fact that without an artist they would have no logo, no slogan, no ad, no website, Artists are a major part of our society whether wells fargo wants to believe it or not.

Antonio Ferron said...

This article brings up so many different important topics. Though the main purpose of this article was discussing the "offend and apologize" phenomenon, I think t also brought up a couple other key issues. First is the fact that the arts are often portrayed as less than in many commercial ad campaigns. These ads, though seemingly harmless, are what can be extremely detrimental to how our world view what artists do. Not only does it cause people to believe that the arts are unimportant, but it also murders the dreams and creativity of the young people in our world who dream of one day becoming artists themselves. It's hard enough for some young people to attempt to pursue the arts due to pressure from parents and judgment by peers. Public advertisements and merchandise shouldn't reinforce these negative attitudes. Another important topic that the article brings up has to do with diversity and sensitivity within the theater community. I won't ramble on too much about this one because there are tons of articles on here that lend themselves to this topic, but I feel the heart of this article resonates deeply with in this topic. Essentially, as artists we cannot fall into the pit that many others in the world have. We should not be joining this "offend and apologize" culture.

Jamie Phanekham said...

I wonder if Wells Fargo did create the ad to bring attention away from their other folly this month. Perhaps they thought that giving people an ad to talk about they would be distracted from their fraud case. That's my conspiracy theory. In all actuality it's probably their own bone-headedness that to the higher-ups in this company its like a punchline that kids would want to pursue the arts.
The other case mentioned in this article is even more striking to me. How dare a theater company say something like that and be allowed to say basically "Calm down, it was just a joke." Clearly, that was not a joke, and to many people it would never come off that way. I seriously hate when a company can't say, "Hey, I screwed up and I will do better." Do the PR people not know that would probably create less of a stink than continuing to back up their problematic initial action. I don't even know this theater company and I have no respect for them. If that was a joke, to people of color who are auditioning for roles and who are trying so hard to make it in the theater world, its not a joke. Casting directors think those things every day and to spell it out is disgusting. I hope, to cover up for their idiot mistake they instead cast a lot of people of color and finally see they are more than just a gamble.

Megan Jones said...

It's honestly baffling to me that no one on any of these marketing teams took a moment to step back and take a hard look at what they were doing. AT&T, Wells Fargo, and Old Navy are all huge companies, so it's hard to to believe that not a single person took issue with the offensive material before it was released. Personally I don't believe this was a publicity stunt, but instead an extremely misguided attempt to make money. By making the arts the butt of a joke you are completely eliminating an entire community of potential customers, and giving yourself a bad name. Yes, it did bring more temporary attention to these companies but in the end it just hurt their reputation. Beach Blanket Babylon's audition notice is an even worse offense, as they are essential saying that they will only hire people of color if they really impress them. The fact that this was ever published is disgusting, but even worse is that their apology was very dismissive. Saying that they're sorry if they offended someone is an attempt to shift the blame to the person that was offended, and away from themselves. Alienating a group of consumers or potential employees will bring nothing but harm to a company, and all of the ones in this article learned that the hard way.

Cassidy Pearsall said...

I wasn't deeply offended by the Wells Fargo ad - more of an eye roll reaction. "Really?" What is this really accomplishing? Kids - get over your dreams to become a botanist? Can we talk about why someone makes the leap from ballerina to botanist, and why are we celebrating that? If I was running a company, I would want to emphasize the "fun" jobs to associate my brand with... Not the botanist route.

The casting notices are very different. They are just discrimination. Unless you're doing a show like Hairspray or the Color Purple, where the race of each cast member is actually important to the plot, I don't think the race of the character should even really be mentioned. I can't imagine a publicity manager who wants to make their company seem racist or discriminatory. Not all publicity is good publicity. If you want to fake something to get press, have a dog break into your offices and make a cute viral video. Not hard.

Ali Whyte said...

While I don't think that the offend and apologise phenomenon is as common as this author is making it out to be and that some of these situations don't really fall into that category, I do think that a lot of the ideas that big companies put forward really set the arts back. Arts funding in schools, especially public high schools, is for the most part hugely dependent on the views and interests of the parents, as schools want to keep their numbers up by getting more parents to bring their children there. I think that ads like the Wells Fargo and Old Navy perpetuate stereotypes of the arts as being less than or not worth it to pursue, and can really hurt perception of the artistic world. I do question the inclusion of the BBB incident in this category, because I do think that it could be argued that the other two companies used offend and apologize to get multiple press hits, but I see absolutely no positive to be drawn from either the initial incident or the apology. I that was just a poorly worded document that they then had to do damage control to attempt to resolve, but I don't think that was really in support of what this author was trying to say.

Sasha Schwartz said...

This offend- apologize- benefit concept is something I’ve been noticing a lot lately, yet haven’t been able to put words too. The example of Trump comes the most strongly to mind; I’ve lost count of how many people have expressed that no matter how horrible offensive or racist or sexist something he says is, he continues to garner support. It kind of reminds me of the popular sentiment “no publicity is bad publicity”. However, I think the type of “apology” definitely contributes to how people view the perpetrator. The example the article gives of the casting notice sent out from “Beach Blanket Babylon” is so incredibly racist, I can’t believe it was even published (“conventionally Caucasion”?!”).Their apology isn’t a credible one of any sort since it doesn’t address the root of the problem, instead blaming those who were offended by it. I definitely agree with the sentiment of the last paragraph of the article; if our own members of the artistic community aren’t making strides to make their own industry a more accepting place, how can we expect other companies, completely separate from the arts, to embrace the artistic community as a valuable place?

Scott MacDonald said...

I enjoyed reading this article because I think this author does a good job of analyzing these instances of offend-apologize and non-apologies. I’m always still so surprised that companies are able to put out these materials without thinking twice. Especially because they’re often produced by… oh, yeah, designers. A graphic designer put together that Wells-Fargo pamphlet, and that Old Navy T-shirt, etc. I think it’s a shame that these artists working for these companies either didn’t realize the message they were contributing to, or that they didn’t feel comfortable speaking up about the project. I think it’s even more frustrating that despite all the levels of overview at these company’s no one points out that these ads/products may be a bad idea. Do they not realize what message their sending to young people? It frustrates me when companies continually insult career-artists but then rely on them for so many things. I hope to see companies putting out more work like the Under Armour Misty Copeland ad, which is totally badass, and less ignorance and misguided insults. Also, Cassidy's comment is on point.

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