#DressGate2015 and Its Lesson for Marketers

On Thursday, big things happened in America. No, I’m not talking about the Net Neutrality decision or the “Jihadi John” situation; I’m talking about dressgate. If you’ve been living under a rock, I’ll sum it up for you. Someone posted a picture on Tumblr of a striped dress and posing the question: “Is this white and gold or blue and black?”

what_colour_is_thi_3213942aThe internet went insane. And the internet went insane because 50% of the people were absolutely certain that the dress was blue and black, and 50% of the people were absolutely certain that the dress was white and gold.

I’ll let you decide for yourself, but for the record, I’m on team Blue and Black:

Within hours of the posting of this photo, people across the country were arguing about the dress’s colors. I myself was baffled by the fact that several of my friends saw white and gold, when clearly the dress was black and blue!

By this morning, the “scientists” had chimed in with an answer and an explanation. The dress is blue and black (ha!), but there’s a legitimate reason why people see it differently. I won’t bore you with the facts, but apparently human beings evolved to see in daylight, but daylight changes color. So, when our visual systems look at the picture, people either discount the blue side, in which case they end up seeing white and gold, or discount the gold side, in which case they end up with blue and black. It honestly doesn’t make much sense to me, so I’ll let you read the article yourself. 

The lesson that I see in all of this for marketing folks is short and sweet: even something scientifically proven to be blue will be debated. 

Let me put that another way. No matter how strategic and well executed a campaign may be, there will always be doubters and people who disagree. People see things differently–and I mean that literally and figuratively.

Here are a few examples to prove my point.

The Dove Real Beauty campaign is a nationally recognized campaign. It has won a plethora of awards and research from Harvard claims that it has actually changed perceptions of beauty over the years. The Dove campaign seems like it should get nothing but rave reviews. No question, it’s “blue and black,” so to speak.

Think again. Business Insider, New York Magazine, and Psychology Today all reported that although most people love Dove’s ads, there are many who disagree with them. This minority sees the campaign from a different perspective (they’re the white and gold folks, if you haven’t caught on yet). Who are these people? How about the plus size women who can’t get on board with an ad that only portrays thinner women or the elderly women who don’t see anyone over the age of 45 in the ads; I could go on.

How about Kmart’s “Ship My Pants” ads. Hilarious? Personally, I think so. Factually unoffensive? Sure, there’s nothing vulgar about the word ship. But, will some people see the ad campaign and find it offense? Most definitely! I’d imagine parents of young children would be the quickest to judge. In the end, whether the ad says ship or sh*t, it’s all about perspective.

So, is the dress blue or white? Is the ad heartfelt or a little too vanilla to make a difference? The lesson is that nothing is guaranteed, even when it’s “proven by science.” Unfortunately that makes our jobs as marketers a little bit stressful. I wish there was a magic “easy button” that we could push to ensure that our words and designs would always be perceived just how we planned for them to be; but, that’s obviously just not an option in today’s world.

The only thing we can do is plan, plan, plan. Look at ads from every angle. Read copy from the viewpoint of every generation, gender, and industry. Play devil’s advocate with your own work.

And, honestly, plan to piss a few people off, because no matter how much time we put into developing the “perfect” strategy, there will always be people who see white and gold. And there will always be people who see blue and black. But no matter which side people land on, they are more than likely going to stand their ground once the die has been cast.