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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Is a potentially offensive joke worth the possible repercussions?



Driving home one Sunday afternoon along Route 1 South heading into Boston, I noticed the message on a large billboard to the left off the highway. The billboard featured the photo of a Lexus sedan on the right and on the left, the message: "We give everyone great service. Unless you're a Yankees fan."

That's it. That's the whole billboard sign. It's a joke, of course, and after doing some digging, the newspaper version of the same ad features a note from the dealer that starts with the words, "Just kidding" and ends with the observation that everyone deserves great service, "even Yankees fans."

OK. So it's a joke. But when the joke is not made clear on the giant billboard sign, does the car dealer risk offending prospective buyers by telling them they're not welcome?

Granted, Boston is a diehard Red Sox town. Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) announces on its website that "our newborns are all Red Sox babies," tough going if you're an out-of-town Yankees fan who goes into labor in Boston and ends up at BIDMC.

It's all in good fun, but does the loyalty for one team that's so strong it carries over into a playful hatred of another team warrant carrying the joke far enough so that a particular group is made to feel unwanted on the premises? BIDMC welcomes all newborns as members of the Red Sox nation. It does not joke about providing exemplary healthcare to all newborns except those born to Yankees fans.

I'm a Yankee fan living in Boston. I've been a Yankees fan since I was 4. My father was a Yankees fan. But I've lived in Boston for more than 35 years and am surrounded by family and friends, all of whom are diehard Red Sox fans. (Except for my youngest grandson, Luke, who loves that Derek Jeter hit a home run on the first pitch in the first game that Luke ever saw the Yankees play the Red Sox at Fenway Park.)

My dentist of 30 years knows I'm a Yankees fan and he provides me with the same care and service he does his other patients. He doesn't joke about treating me differently because of my fan loyalty. And hepitched for the Red Sox in the 1960s.

Was the car dealer wrong to joke on the billboard about giving great service to everyone but Yankees fans? Humor is a funny thing. As long as the dealer is willing to recognize that by suggesting a specific group of prospective buyers is not as welcome at his establishments, he's likely to lose business, that's fine. Perhaps his business is just fine without welcoming Yankees fans. And it's not likely charges will be brought against him for discriminating against a protected group of Yankees fans.

The right thing for any business owner to do is decide whether it's worth it, in an effort to be funny, to run the risk of offending prospective customers. And the right thing for Yankees fans to do is decide whether to buy a car from this guy. I know at least one who won't. 


Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@comcast.net. 

(c) 2014 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by TRIBUNECONTENT AGENCY, LLC.


5 comments:

Mike Munhall said...

J,
I am not sure this car dealer is making that huge a mistake...whether it's the "right" thing or not to post such an ad. Business-wise he is shoring up his Boston customer allegiance while possibly alienating a few Boston Yankees fans. He too, would only risk losing their business if they even saw the ad or billboard. The focus of advertising is to get customers to know about the business. If the cleverness of this ad makes people laugh and remember the dealership, then it's been successful. Even the Yankee's fans seeing this will probably tell friends..."did you see that ad about Yankee fans?" Probably generating some added business. Personally, when I need a car, or anything else, I don't look at a company's ads to find out if they would accept my business. I look for the company that has what I need. Being neither a Yankee (even though I saw a home run hit by Mickey Mantle) nor Sox fan, I am used to rolling my eyes at the mostly good natured silliness that goes on in both cities. I think you might be reading too much into this ad campaign. M

Anonymous said...

The dentist mentioned in the column pitched Mickey Mantle's last home run (http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/event_hr.cgi?t=b&n1=mantlmi01).

William Jacobson said...

Jeffrey,

The purpose of the advertisement is not to be funny, per se, but to be memorable. The dealer appears to have accomplished this rather nicely. The goal of advertising is to create name-recognition and mindshare so that when the readers decide where to buy their new car, they think of this dealership.

You are correct that the pointedness of this ad may well offend some oversensitive Yankee fans but considering that New Yorkers aren't particularly known for being thin-skinned and that the dealer caters to a clientele that is far more Boston-leaning, the dealer appears to have made a calculated gamble that disparaging the Bronx Bombers will garner him more attention and goodwill from his actual customer base , and thus business, than it will lose him. The fact that even his detractors write him up in nationally syndicated columns proves that he was right.

William Jacobson
Anaheim, CA

Anonymous said...

If something so obviously a joke is offensive, then the complaining author needs anger management. Sports should be fun, when they turn out not to be, they should be stopped.

Alan Owseichik
Greenfield, Ma.

Ann J. said...

What a funny ad - wish I had seen it! Seriously, I agree with all previous postings: an ad should be memorable; the ad did what was intended because it brought attention to the business; and the ad likely provided fun to thousands of people, both Red Sox fans and Yankees fans.

To the complaining Yankees fan: You realized the ad was a joke; I get that. You didn't like the ad; I get that. Don't buy a car from that dealer. Your problem is solved.