Thinking of You: The Inclusive Power of Opt-Outs
We’ve just seen it again: Mother’s Day madness.
The time of year we help brands shout about flowers, sweet treats and other last-minute gifts for mummy dearest wherever they can – from TV and billboards to press ads and social posts.
Only, for a host of reasons, it’s worth treading a little more carefully. Even more so in difficult times. The day was a somewhat unwelcome reminder that travel restrictions have kept many of us far away from our families. And in the face of such disastrous pandemic losses, many more will have spent their first Mother’s Day grieving theirs.
These brand comms carry an inherent assumption that everyone has a mum they can or want to celebrate. The assumption isn’t intentional, of course. But in an industry navigating its need to be more inclusive, thoughtlessness is the enemy of progress. Exclusion that’s accidental is still exclusion. When we rush to get something out into the world, we risk leaving people out of that world – breaking trust by showing a lack of empathy. A more considered approach is key.
The tide is turning in digital spaces. In 2019, florist Bloom and Wild rightly garnered praise for enabling their audience to opt out of Mother’s Day emails if they felt in any way triggered. They followed it with last year’s launch of The Thoughtfulness Movement – a mission that’s rallied the likes of Wagamama and Paperchase to build a more mindful marketing community. There’s been a notable rise in opt-out emails since from brands including Moonpig, Very and Waitrose. Social platforms like Facebook now let you hide sponsored posts and mark them as ‘too personal’, ‘irrelevant’ or a ‘sensitive topic’. And you can snooze posts from your well-meaning friends for 30 days, if needed.
Similar thinking can make our remote workplaces more inclusive. Just the other day, I spotted a short message at the bottom of a colleague’s signature: I have sent this email at a time that works for me and my family commitments. Please do not feel any pressure to respond until a time that is suitable for you. This, too, is an opt-out – signalling to the reader that they can forego the usual ASAP timeframe and respond on their terms.
In a way, it seems counterintuitive. There’s a curious tension in bringing people closer by showing them the door and asking if they’d like to walk through it. Isn’t inclusion all about getting people into the room? But this is an illusion. Opt-outs are inherently inclusive because they ask people whether they want to be in a particular room in the first place. They give people the agency to enter or leave at will and centre their needs over those of the brand. As a bonus, they also let us as marketers get around the impossible task of communicating everything to everyone.
The last year has reminded us how important it is to listen. With emails and social posts, the feedback loop built into opt-outs – asking why they’ve chosen to do so – is crucial to help brands better understand the bigger picture. What are their audience’s concerns? What insights have gone unseen? And how do we become more considerate communicators in channels that lack built-in feedback loops? Asking these questions is a small, practical step we can take today to become not just inclusive but actively anti-exclusion. The kind of holistic brand thinking a fractured society needs. You love to see it in action.
So as more brands look to bring new audiences in, it’s time we help them recognise and harness the inclusive power of opting out. Mother’s Day is just the start. We can treat other potentially triggering occasions the same way – like Father’s Day (for similar reasons), Christmas (for those who don’t celebrate) or Valentine’s Day (for those who aren’t or don’t want to be in relationships). Stopping to take that wider look across the calendar year means we can plan for times that may prove sensitive.
Because as we’ve started to see, it pays to think of others – and inspires even more of us to do the same.
- Binoy Zuzarte is senior copywriter at Wunderman Thompson London