Marketing Info

How to Avoid Cultural Appropriation in Marketing

Marketers naturally seek creative inspiration from trends, cultural moments, and an array of media. And in our digitally connected world, we can experience diverse cultures, customs and communities without even looking at our phones.

As a result, marketers have many opportunities to create culturally relevant content and tap into growing social trends. But when marketers take advantage of elements of a culture without their brand earning credibility in that community, they risk crossing boundaries in cultural appropriation.

What is cultural appropriation?

The term cultural appropriation, coined in the 1980s, is “used to describe the taking of creative or artistic forms, themes, or practices by a cultural group” in a way that does not recognize their origin, meaning, and true value. Is.

Native American headdresses, box braids on blonde women, and whitewashed mahjong tiles are more obvious examples of cultural appropriation at Fashion Week. More subtle examples have come from the misuse and misunderstanding of memes, GIFs, slang and other language choices by marketers. For example, words such as “period,” “sis,” and “wok” come from the African American English vernacular (AAVE). “Throwing Shade” is rooted in drag and ball culture. “Spirit animals” and “tribes” are distinctly associated with Native American culture and spiritualism. And yet we often see these terms slapped on marketing materials and branded products, with no recognition or sensitivity of their origins.

If a brand is truly black, LGBTQIA+ or native-owned, or very closely related to these diverse audiences, these words can be a relevant and authentic part of their brand voice. But it becomes an issue when brands or marketers who are not considered part of the community try to profit with zero credibility and zero value added.

Over the past several years, cultural appropriation in marketing has been (and is often called for) enhanced by social media.

“Social media can introduce us to new communities and trends. At the same time, social gives visibility to the actions, trends, and behaviors of others, both negatively and positively,” said Cassandra Blackburn, DEI director at Sprout Social. When you add the layer of cultural appropriation, social is where people will call out anyone taking advantage of the culture in a derogatory or manipulative way.”

5 tips for creating culturally relevant content while avoiding appropriation

Brand marketers have a responsibility to exercise discretion and create content that is relevant, not exploitative.

“It is important to consider the different experiences, stories and values ​​that are important to our brand, our customers and culture. When we consider these factors, we can move closer to addressing what people really want from our brand. And in the end, if we don’t reflect our values ​​and lead with authenticity in our messaging, we’re going to miss the mark,” Blackburn said.

To create more engaging, culturally relevant content while avoiding appropriation, Blackburn suggests these tips.

1. Committed to year-round cultural investment

During Black History Month, LGBTQIA+ Pride Month, and other annual cultural celebrations, we see over and over again that brands are celebrating, but failing to support those communities year-round. Before socializing these types of holidays are accepted, Blackburn urges brands to look inward.

“Brands and company have to be committed and hard working internally before they work externally. In the midst of what we were experiencing in 2020, brands offer beautiful, colorful statements, campaigns, and more. But what are you listening to now? Are they sticking to the commitments?” Blackburn said.

Ben & Jerry’s is a standout brand when it comes to creating culturally relevant content that reinforces their commitment to social justice, democracy, LGBTQIA+ equality, and other issues. They have made it a part of their brand of clothing and this is reflected in their social content.

2. Involve diverse people and perspectives in the content creation process

If you want to diversify your content, it’s important to get experts in those places into the fold. “Brands cannot afford to make decisions in a silo. Not only must companies adopt diverse perspectives internally, but it is also important to diversify the experts, creators, consultants and community members they partner with,” Blackburn said.

If you invite people and perspectives from a specific culture into the creative process to understand how you can celebrate that culture, you’re more likely to come across as favored by praise, not appropriation.

Chinese New Year may not sound like a marketing campaign opportunity for Belgian luxury brand Maison Margiela. But by partnering with a local Chinese artist, they were able to create a beautiful, culturally relevant campaign that respectfully pays homage to an ancient Chinese painting, the Ten Bulls, and signifies the Year of the Bull. In addition, he chose Weibo and WeChat as platforms for the campaign, recognizing his position as the largest social platform in China.

3. Be Conscientious and Challenge the “Why” Behind Your Content

“I think brands often get into trouble with cultural appropriation in marketing when what they’re doing is purely for their own benefit. So if the ‘why’ behind a tweet that uses cultural references ’ is that if you want to tap into a specific community for your metric, you have to reevaluate,” Blackburn said. “If the ‘why’ comes back to building relationships, adopting a culture, building trust, and giving back to those communities, it is coming from a more authentic place and will likely be well received.”

Historically, a lot of brands have been mis-passed on Cinco De Mayo. But in 2020, Procter & Gamble, a consumer goods brand led by a white CEO, was able to recognize the holiday in a meaningful way. Virtual Live Festival, Altalismo Live! As the principal sponsor of the event, they brought together a group of Latin artists to host and perform, with the goal of raising $3 million for the Farmworkers Pandemic Relief Fund.

If the event had been hosted by white artists, branded with stereotypical Latin American imagery or only benefiting P&G, the reaction would have been very different. But instead, P&G did not uphold the stereotype, they hired Latin American artists to run the show, they did not benefit and the results were mutually beneficial to the brand and culture that inspired the event.

4. embrace education

“Always start from a place of empathy, learning, and curiosity,” suggests Blackburn. “Whether you are developing content on behalf of your brand or you are branding yourself on a personal level, it is important that we get the information we need to better educate ourselves about cultures and communities. “

Education can begin with reading, following more activists on social and asking questions, not to validate beliefs but to understand the experiences of other members of BIPOC and underrepresented groups. The beauty of social media is that it facilitates dialogue about important issues and emerging trends.

When Houston rapper Megan Thee Stallion coined “Hot Girl Summer,” many brands were quick to capitalize on using the phrase to market their products. Soon, social media users started brushing out brands that failed to give credit to the rapper.

If some brands taking advantage of the “Hot Girl Summer” promotion investigated the trend through social media listening tools, they could pick up on the fact that many social media users objected to brands using the phrase. Were were They must have seen that Megan Thee Stallion was searching trademarking a phrase, He could have received suggestions from consumers for partnering with the rapper. And with that said, they may have decided to explore more successful ways for their summer marketing campaigns.

5. If you are called, stop and listen

“When brands are called upon for appropriation or performance aide, they often feel like they have to hurry up and address it. But I think it’s a good idea to really pump the brakes and take the time to listen. There is opportunity,” Blackburn said. “Then, in the future, when you are working on a marketing campaign or considering DEI content, you can apply what you hear from the community yourself to determine the best course of action. can do.”

In the past, Sephora has been called out for its lack of black-owned brands on its shelves. And Lizzo and . celebrities like SZA It was publicly shared on social media that he experienced prejudicial behavior at a Sephora store. While the beauty retailer responded to these complaints, they too listened and began making long-term plans to correct course.

From pledging 15% by the end of 2021 and planning to double its assortment of Black-owned brands, to sponsoring a 17-page study on racial bias in retail and new marketing production guidelines, Sephora finds out continues how they can promote inclusion and improve the retail experience for all.

Embrace the values ​​you stand for

Above all, stick to what you and your brand stand for, and let it guide your marketing decisions. “We can’t be everything to everyone, even if we want to be. Marketers have to push to be clear about things that align with your values, and give it its place,” said Blackburn .

When you stay true to your values, you have more opportunities to build a deeper understanding of the spaces you have and the audience you serve. Deepen that understanding even further by capturing customer opinion data. Download this guide to make better business decisions using VoC.

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