Marketing’s New C-Word

There’s a word out there that begins with the letter C that simply has no place in modern society.  You’ve used it.  I’ve used it.  We tend to use it as an epithet, unfairly.  Marketers use it all the time and we, as a group, should stop.  Right now.

That c-word is, of course, “crazy.”

We talk about “crazy ideas” or “crazy clients.”  A certain defunct electronics retailer literally built a brand on crazy.  We use the word so often we forget that it demeans mental illness and those who suffer from mental illnesses.

I suspect that the broader culture, as a whole, has begun to open itself to greater discussion about mental health.  For one, news reports have moved terms such as PTSD and gender dysphoria into relatively commonplace conversation.

Popular entertainment has also shown a nuanced approach to mental illness.  Witness, for instance, Michael McKean’s dignified portrayal of Charles McGill on “Better Call Saul.”  McKean could play Charles, the victim of a psychosomatic allergy to electromagnetism, as a buffoon.  However, he plays him as a brilliant lawyer with a diverse range of moods.

Similarly, this summer’s superhero extravaganza “Wonder Woman” includes a brief yet touching subplot about PTSD [minor spoiler alert].  Ewen Bremmer plays Charlie, a Scottish WW I sniper who becomes catatonic under fire.  Rather than become angry with him, the other characters rally around him in support.

Finally, Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why has become a teachable moment in middle schools about suicide and bullying.

I think these movies and programs have done for mental illness what “Will and Grace” did for lesbian and gay issues (I’m not excluding other non-traditional expressions of sexuality because a) I’m not up to date with the acronyms and b) at the time, the conversation focused on lesbians and gays).  “Will and Grace” presented a non-campy, non-stereotyped example of gay people to mainstream America.  I won’t weigh in whether the show led to marriage equality, but it sure didn’t hurt.

By the same token, no matter how many box office records “Wonder Woman” breaks or how many Emmy awards “Better Call Saul” wins, we can’t expect attitudes about mental illness to switch overnight.  However, we can, as marketers, get out in front of the issues.

Among other things, we can stop using “crazy” cues in our ads.  No straight jackets.  No psychiatrist jokes.  No men in white coats.  Sure, we can get the message across quickly that people who use our competitors’ products dress like Napoleon, but we should refuse to engage in these shopworn images.  We should probably stop using the c-word when communicating with co-workers and clients as well.

It’s something we can do and something we should do.

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