There’s a popular Yiddish word, sechel, which means common sense.

We’ve all likely seen illustrations recently in which companies have attempted to push boundaries to generate attention and excitement, but may not have considered the backlash they would face.

An obvious example of this is Pepsi. The ubiquitous Kendall Jenner was recently featured in an advertisement playing off the numerous high-profile demonstrations this year. She was seemingly involved in a protest of some sort, handed a police officer a Pepsi, and peace prevailed. Pepsi has since pulled the ad and issued apologies, indicating that it was attempting to project unity and understanding. The company was clearly inspired by recent political events, and perhaps also by its competitor’s campaign a few decades back, which taught the world to sing in perfect harmony. A number of critics blasted Pepsi for making light of Black Lives Matter and other causes. Pepsi claimed in its apology that it was trying to promote unity; however, the words “tone-deaf” came up numerous times as I read about the debacle, and I can’t argue that point.

Another example I stumbled across this morning came from Adidas, which apparently sent a congratulatory email to finishers of this year’s Boston Marathon, with the message, “You survived!” Now, for any other race, this might have been an appropriate message. In light of the horrific terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon four years ago, it was – in Adidas’s own words – a “mistake” in word choice.

It can be argued that these companies had the best of intentions. However, in both these examples, they failed what I will term “The Sechel Challenge”, a fond take on the Pepsi Challenge (a far better received, and world-renowned campaign).

How can companies help ensure the messages they convey will be timely, provocative, and resonate positively with their audiences? Two suggestions spring to mind.

  1. Consider context. Is the content likely to offend the audience in any way given recent events, external factors, etc.? And, who can help make that determination?
  2. Focus groups, focus groups, focus groups. Do not solely rely on your possibly like-minded peers while jotting down brainstormed ideas on a white board in a conference room. Recruit a diverse group of people to advise you what they think and how they interpret the message.

The Sechel Challenge can steer the company’s efforts in the right way to help ensure messages are effective and are interpreted in the way they were intended, and has the potential to salvage a company’s reputation in the process.

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