Words do matter — and some lines should not be crossed

What is considered funny or clever advertising? What is thoughtless and offensive? There have always been lines we don’t cross, not in comedy, not in marketing, not on social media, not in conversation. Last week these very questions were sparked locally in relation to Black Lives Matter.

Centre Ice Bar and Grill got their metaphorical hands slapped for an outdoor sign that read: “Black Olives Matter. Try our new flatbread.”

After complaints, the owner apologized on the company Facebook page: “I sincerely apologize for any miss understanding I have caused with the wording of my sign. I was trying to make light of a very sensitive situation. I immediately took the sign down as soon as it was brought to my attention that the wording my be offensive to some.I was only wanting to promote my new pizza line. I have supported our Community for the last 10 years and I hope you as a community continue to support my business. I am not a racist and i will never be a racist and again I am truly sorry.”

Optimistically, the owner is well-intentioned, but had a severe lack of judgement. It’s without a doubt that emotional intelligence was absent, especially as that was the week of sentencing in the Breonna Taylor murder case (as one commentator on social media pointed out). The owner actually says in his apology that he was “trying to make light of a very sensitive situation,” which to me sounds like he knew the ad was dicey to begin with.

The African Canadian Caribbean Association of Northern Ontario (ACCANO) called the ad “a mockery of the Black Lives Matter movement” and stated: “such actions threaten our assumed safety in public spaces and could embolden others to act in similar and much more harmful ways.”

It wasn’t even an original bad idea. If he had Googled it, he would have seen that the Washington Post reported another restaurant/bar in the U.S. using the Black Olives Matter campaign back in 2016. He would have seen the outrage with people calling it “offensive,” “tacky and hideous” and “in very bad taste.” Those were the kinder posts.

Back to 2020, also last week, the Walmart flyer came out with a bedroom suite all in grey tones, with the wording “Grey matters.” We cannot assume that the corporate behemoth is well-intention, and ill-informed. Their advertising department is much, much, more than one guy putting plastic letters on a sign.

If I was in an optimistic mood, I might have tried to play it off as a post-back-to-school ad speaking to our brain matter, but it was too late in September and this wasn’t a college dorm room in the photo. I might have liked to think that it was a take on our aging population, but again, no clues to seniors in the ad. This ad was certainly tested with Walmart’s target market, and this offshoot of black lives matter is nothing but dark.

No company should be trying to profit from Black Lives Matter. I liked Uber’s stance, which boldly emblazoned across their website: “If you tolerate racism, delete Uber.” Nike altered its tagline to “For Once, Don’t Do It” encouraging people to not turn their backs on racism. Netflix released a collection of free films and documentaries to help people learn more about racial injustice and the Black experience in America.

What is funny? What is offensive? Writers and advertisers love a good pun, but there are things that you just don’t joke about.

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