I'm triggered

Brands should be better, but they can't do everything

Last year, I wrote a blog post about brands that I believed to be nailing compassionate marketing. One such example I will always share is Bloom & Wild, the online flower shop that has allowed its customers to opt-out from Mother’s Day emails for the last three years.

Since then, many other brands have joined the gang and, what is actually a pretty easy segmentation of your email database, has turned into a badge of honour for companies that want to show they care (and not lose customers, at the same time).

Unsurprisingly, the number of brands in my inbox asking if I want to receive Mother’s Day email (I don’t) is still very few. I have received 17 emails referencing “Mother’s Day” in the last three weeks, and I am not even subscribed to that many commercial email lists.

While I think it’s a nice touch that brands are asking their customers to tell them about the content they want to receive, it also got me thinking about how it would be impossible for a brand to avoid every possible trigger in their marketing.

The trigger vs. the triggered: where does the responsibility lie?

In my opinion (that’s why you’re all here, right?), there’s no definitive answer to this. On one hand, brands should take ownership of their messaging and give their customers the chance to avoid a barrage of Mothers’s Day emails when they don’t want them, but equally, I do think it’s our responsibility as consumers to curate our own newsfeeds and use the internet to empower us - not beat us down.

About six months ago, I realised Instagram was making me feel bad. I have gained weight in lockdown (as so many of us have), and I was following so many people on Instagram that met the societal ‘ideal’ body expectations for women, and it was making me feel rubbish.

One day I decided to unfollow everyone who made me feel that way. Just to clarify, I feel bad when I see these posts because I have my own issues to deal with - I don’t believe influencers are trying to make me feel like crap with their washboard abs, perfect skin and skinny figures. Anyway, by unfollowing these accounts, and replacing them with some amazing body positive women like Jess Megan, Bodyposipanda (Megan Jayne Crabbe) and The Birds Papaya (Sarah Nicola Landry) make me feel so much better.

By taking my Instagram feed into my own hands, I navigated my own ‘triggers’ and carved out my own corner of the internet where I feel comfortable.

I think it’s unreasonable to ask brands and influencers to stop something just because it triggers you, but I also don’t think they are void of all responsibility for what they say.

Just take Burger King’s horrific International Women’s Day Twitter campaign (now deleted) from earlier this week, in which they take an outdated sexist trope, try to turn it into a joke and use it to promote a campaign to get more women working in the BK kitchens.

I shouldn’t have to explain why this is far from appropriate on any day, nevermind one dedicated to empowering women all over the world.

Brands have been misreading the room for years, but I believe social media brings with it a unique cocktail of disaster potential - a brand’s desperation to stand out from the crowd is only perpetuated by the ease with which they can press “Send Tweet”.

Last month, a clothing brand called Rixo tweeted a totally miscalculated marketing message about their “exclusively inclusive” bridal range with sizes ranging from 6 to 16. For context, the average size of a UK woman is 16 - so that’s not very inclusive, is it?

I could go on forever about brands missing the mark. Each situation is unique, while some call for a slap on the wrist and a “we’ll do better” message, others require a serious investigation into why no one spotted it in the first place - likely a lack of minority voices in the board room (see H&M’s Monkey in the Jungle shitshow).

We can protect ourselves all day from potentially triggering content (muting words on Twitter, unfollowing toxic people on Instagram), but nothing short of throwing our smartphones away will protect us from brand cock-ups like the above.

If you have experienced any trauma or loss in your life then the chances are you have been triggered by something you’ve seen online. I am keen to hear about how you (and if you) protect yourself from triggering content online. Whether that’s Mother’s Day promos or influencer pregnancy announcements, we have experienced that feeling in the pit of our stomach when faced with something that brings to the forefront a memory we strive to compartmentalize (or even forget).

Let me know your thoughts on this topic over on Twitter @ContentByTheSea or reply to this email to tell me in confidence.

📚 Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

I am a sucker for books about robots/AIs experiencing human feelings, and this didn’t disappoint.

And that’s everything I can think of as all I do is read books, scroll Twitter and watch YouTube deep dives into the toxic world of Tony Robbins.

Episode #5 of our podcast is out now!

This week, we were joined by my good friend and fellow freelancer, Lauren McWilliams of For You Photography. Lauren shares how she studied Criminology and went on to work at a homeless hostel in Newcastle Upon Tyne. However, Lauren experienced bullying and gaslighting from peers and management, which eventually took a toll on her mental health.

As always, you can watch the full interview on YouTube or Spotify.

Enjoyed this? You might like these past issues:

3 March: Balancing creativity and getting paid

24 February: The day I lost a client

17 February: How to talk to someone who is struggling

10 February: Learning to say no and other lessons from two years of self-employment

3 February: Learning to find joy in the mundane

27 January: No you can’t

20 January: I’ll be happy when

13 January: Why you’re tired all the time

6 January: Just keep going