How to Offend People the "Right" Way

While many businesses have started catching onto the modern day “content is king” principle, they still have a big problem: Their content sucks. Corporations are so afraid of “offending” anyone they get trapped producing buckets of vanilla content no one cares about. If you want content which will get picked up by media for PR, or even noticed at all, you’re going to have to “offend” people. So let’s talk about how to do it the right way.

Trolls Are EVERYWHERE - Don’t Confuse Attention with Offense

If the Internet has taught us anything, it’s that most people are assholes. Underneath the civil veneer of society is a dark underbelly of trolls, haters, and wakadoos just waiting for something to complain about. They are the ones writing letters to the editors, commenting on your YouTube video, and sending you angry emails about how you just lost their business (even if you never had it).


If your advertising or marketing gets attention, then you are offending someone. That is the cost of getting attention. In fact, you can be pretty certain that if you didn’t offend anyone, then you didn’t get anyone’s attention. Creating ads and content to get attention means creating disruption and appeal, you can’t appeal to someone without offending someone else. If you aren’t comfortable with complaints, then you will not grow your business.

Don’t Offend Your Ideal Market Base

So if you should care at all about offending people, then where is the line? Well, it’s wherever your market is. The line you shouldn’t cross is whatever line your market has. When I say “market,” I don’t mean the people who might buy from you. I mean the people who are most likely to buy from you, your ideal market base. If you try to market to everyone, you will market to no one.

Play Sides

Who does your market hate? Who do they conflict with or have the most friction? The best way to “get attention” and not offend your market is to intentionally offend “the other side.” Apple did this by making fun of Microsoft. Samsung makes fun not only of Apple, but Apple fans themselves. Opening a hipster cafe? Make fun of Starbucks. Opening a burger place? Make fun of Panera Bread. People identify themselves by their purchases, help them feel like they are expressing themselves by being your customer.

Don’t Be Stupid

That clear line between collateral offensiveness and being down right crude isn’t a thin line, it’s pretty obvious. If you and your team are wondering if an ad “might” offend people, then you are probably already OK. If you make something truly deeply offensive, it will be obvious. Seriously, it’s not rocket science, just use common sense.