Hate-bait marketing must be like the famous Supreme Court threshold for obscenity: You know it when you see it.
This "eye of the beholder" defense is being used by the owners of the South Jersey Shooting Club in Winslow to spin off negative reaction to its billboards mocking NFL players who take a knee during the national anthem to protest police shootings of African Americans.
The signs read, "The only time we take a knee…," and answer with a silhouette of a soldier kneeling on one knee as he holds his rifle ready to shoot.
The NAACP, South Jersey Women for Progressive Change, and individuals have called the billboards racist. Owner Wesley Aducat says that's nonsense. He told staff writer Michael Boren, "It's just support for our veterans."
Does that include black veterans who support the NFL players and white veterans like former Homeland Security chief and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, who recently wrote that he was proud to uphold the rights of those who wish to protest?
The signs are just a continuation of a troubling series of marketing ploys that have been rumbling through the nation. In New Jersey, Republican gubernatorial candidate Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno ran a fallacious ad tying now-Gov.-elect Phil Murphy to an "illegal alien and child rapist." Though the most high-profile negative appeal in the last election, it certainly wasn't the only one.
In Burlington County, Freeholder-elect Blavir Singh was subjected to ads mocking his name and Muslims. He was called a "third world idiot, a dumb Muslim" in Facebook ads. He is Sikh. In fliers and television ads, his name, Singh, was ridiculed.
In Hoboken, Mayor-elect Ravi Bhalla, also Sikh, saw campaign fliers that read, "Don't let TERRORISM take over our town!"
And in Edison, racism reared its ugly head in a school board election. Jerry Shi and Falguni Patel were targeted in pamphlets complaining that Chinese and Indians were taking over the township. The fliers, entitled "Make America Great Again," included the candidates' pictures with the word "Deport" stamped on them.
These appeals have become more popular since President Trump campaigned on a xenophobic platform. He raised the issue of black NFL players kneeling during the national anthem while deflecting attention from the widening probe into whether Russia influenced his 2016 election. This divisive negativity has worked for Trump with his base but so far it's not getting traction in New Jersey, one of the nation's most urban and diverse states.
Voters rejected hateful appeals and elected the targets. That speaks well for New Jersey and poorly for those cynical enough to use fear and hated as a marketing ploy.
These appeals demean the voters, the candidates, and the electoral process. When used to sell goods and services, they cry out for a boycott by people of conscience.
The same Constitution that allows people to own guns gives the gun club owner the right to post his ads on billboards. But the rest of us have every right to disagree.
Looking at the political ads and the gun club signs, it's pretty easy to conclude hate-bait marketing is in many ways like porn: It's demeaning, destructive, and disgusting.