Why context cannot be separated from content?

Communicators and marketers “play with words” every day. But there are days when “wordplay” gets the better of them!

Imagine this –

A frustrated customer types in a long grievance message on your feedback window, and the automated response system generates a generic message like “Thanks for your response!”

Or this –

A brand using the trending hashtag like #PlaneCrash to promote their products or services, unaware that the hashtag is related to a recent aviation accident.

Out-of-context communication is both dangerous and hilarious. It will serve only two purposes: 1. Give your corporate communications team sleepless nights. 2. Turn your brand into a butt of joke.

You don’t want either.

The high-cost implications:

A slight twist in the plot can lead to an unexpected turn of events for a brand. This means contextual faux pas in the brand story can lead to crisis communication.

Remember these:

Amul’s Rahul Gandhi Tweet (2019): In 2019, Amul faced controversy for an advertisement featuring their mascot dining with Rahul Gandhi, amid a politically charged atmosphere, leading to accusations of political bias and calls for a boycott. Amul later clarified that the ad was not intended as a political endorsement, seeking to address the criticism.

Tanishq’s Controversial Jewelry Advertisement (2020): Tanishq, a prominent Indian jewelry brand, faced controversy and threats of a boycott after releasing a Diwali advertisement promoting interfaith harmony with a Hindu-Muslim family. The ad’s message was widely misunderstood and misinterpreted, prompting Tanishq to withdraw it, igniting discussions on cultural sensitivity and diversity in advertising portrayal.

KFC’s ‘Add Hope’ Campaign Controversy (2017):U India launched the ‘Add Hope’ campaign to aid underprivileged children by encouraging customer donations. However, one of their ads showed someone distributing chicken to needy kids, unintentionally creating a context error by associating a fast-food product with charity in a predominantly vegetarian land.

It is clear from the above incidents that as a rule, context and content should never be separated (unless you are trying to be funny!). Marketers have always known that and have long accepted this as a fact.

Yet, there are occasions, almost every day, when customers misunderstand what we tell them. Or even worse, they do not understand at all! That’s when your communication fails to connect. And without connection, there can be no communication. And without communication, there can be no sale.

The Solution:

There is one foolproof way to prevent such damaging errors: Clarity of Target Audience Persona. 

All good marketers, agency heads, and communicators consider this as their first important step before churning out any communication. There is no question about it!


Does the last person who works on the communication piece also understand the target audience and their contextual environment as good as the CMO does?

Does the last person creating your first draft of the social media message have an Audience Persona sheet in front of her while writing the message?

Does the first person approving the draft verify the brand’s voice guidelines and brand identity frameworks?

Do you have a Communications Playbook that your team can refer to before working on every communication piece?

A communications playbook is a great tool and a dynamic document that evolves with your brand and industry trends. If you already have one, regularly review and update it to ensure it remains contextually relevant for your team. If you do not have one, go for it to create a strong and consistent brand identity through written, visual or verbal communication.

If you are not “going by the book”, you are leaving a lot to smart play of words. And that’s just content! Waiting to be turned into an impactful communication.

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