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“It’s 2019, you can’t say that anymore.”

It seems like everything offends someone these days. And while too much of anything is a bad thing (like getting offended on another’s behalf), avoiding offense should be more about inclusivity than negative press.

To answer the question of the title, yes you should care. To an extent. It’s impossible to create anything that doesn’t offend anyone. If you could, it would be boring, bland, basically the color beige. And then after all that flavorless work, someone somewhere would find a way to be offended by it. That’s just how the world works.

But it is possible to create things that are positive, inclusive, and still good. If Mr. Rogers can see the best in any person or situation, we can at least try, too, right?

So how do we avoid offending people?

We live in a weird world. Parts of it are getting better, parts are getting worse, and some parts haven’t really changed in a long, long, long time (thank you, Costco menu prices.)

And in this world people are different. No one person is the same as the next, and just because the demographic data says you’re targeting one small subset, doesn’t mean you have to exclude all others. But it doesn’t mean you have to cater to everyone either.

Simple right?

The answer is to create something that resonates with the target of your message, without doing so at the expense of another group. Avoiding broad generalizations is a good start. It seems obvious in theory, but in practice it’s not quite so straightforward.

The easiest ways to do this are two-fold:
focus on the positive and find a human truth.

If you focus on the positive, it’s easier to avoid offending anyone unintentionally.

When you find a human truth, your target can relate to it, and so can others. That’s just good advertising. A rising tide lifts all boats and all that.

Along with inclusivity, avoiding offense is about representation. While some decry the idea of showing diversity as pandering, the truth is that seeing yourself on screen or in a magazine is a kind of actualization. It makes you feel important and, in a very real sense, seen.

Inclusivity and representation are a big deal. Creating stories and ads that feature diverse casts helps people feel more at home in their own skin. And telling stories from different perspectives is just a good idea because they could be ones most people have never seen before.

So to sum up:

  • Yes, we should care about offending people, to a reasonable extent.
  • No, we shouldn’t use a group of people as a punchline to another group. (That’s common sense.)
  • We should focus on the positive because negativity is easy, and can easily offend.
  • We should find a universal truth that almost anyone can relate to.

Avoiding offense is about inclusivity and representation. It’s about making people feel seen and acknowledged. The goal of anyone should be to create good work, but it can DO GOOD, too.