You can win at multicultural marketing…
What is one of the best ways to do so?
Learn. From. Others’. Mistakes.
Major brands like Pepsi and Dolce & Gabbana offer some lessons in multicultural marketing through their controversial missteps. Let’s take a look at a few compelling cases of what not to do if your brand wants to reach multicultural audiences.
In 2018, Dolce & Gabbana made a tone-deaf attempt at culturally-significant humor but ended up offending hordes of Chinese consumers instead. The brand’s portrayal of an Asian model’s clumsy attempt at eating Italian food with chopsticks may have passed as a harmless joke to the marketing team. But it did not sit well with a Chinese audience as they felt it mocked their culture and was especially insulting to Chinese women.
Although the brand quickly pulled the ad and issued an apology video from the founders, that wasn’t enough to stop Chinese consumers from boycotting the luxury fashion house. And D&G is still paying for it even in 2020, with its Asia-Pacific market shrinking from 25% to 22%.
For Pepsi, a poorly-planned ad starring Kendall Jenner in 2017 continues to be the subject of memes that mock of the brand. There were several problematic elements in the ad – from portraying people based on racial and cultural stereotypes to trivializing serious social struggles.
The mere suggestion that serious protests for social justice could easily be thwarted with a can of Pepsi was a slap in the face for Black Americans disproportionately affected by police brutality. And socially-aware millennial consumers felt that the brand was making light of systemic racism and injustice.
While this controversial ad may not be enough to drive a dent in Pepsi stocks, it didn’t do any favor to the brand’s purchase consideration, bringing it down from 27% to 24%.
2017 seemed like a year of well-intentioned but poorly-planned ads, with Dove joining the ranks of Pepsi as screenshots of its seemingly-racist ad made the rounds on social media. For those who watched the entire video, it was clear that the ad didn’t have racist connotations as it merely tried to be inclusive by showing women of different races.
So uh… #Dove – what’s happening here? pic.twitter.com/v0PzdtWTBc
— #WineWithChas 🍷 (@chasityscooper) October 7, 2017
But it was equally apparent how easily it could’ve been taken out of context, proving that the ad was poorly-executed and needed a better approval process comprising a diverse focus group.
As for the Nivea “White is purity” ad, the racist rhetoric in the message was instantly recognizable regardless of its intention. Although the ad originally came from the official Facebook page of Nivea Middle East, it quickly became viral worldwide and the brand’s reputation suffered globally. Not surprisingly, it even caught the attention of white supremacist groups who enthusiastically joked that Nivea had “chosen their side.”
Nivea FB post yest (they took it dwn) and the Pepsi ad 2day. These glaring missteps are directly related to lack of internal inclusiveness pic.twitter.com/jyB17i9tM8
— Sakita Holley (@MissSuccess) April 4, 2017
Unlike the Dove ad, Nivea’s blunder wasn’t a result of poor execution, but more of poor ideation as it failed to consider what their message would mean in a multicultural context. It was clear that their ad ideation and approval process suffered a serious blind spot.
Dan Gilbert’s Bedrock may have invited people to “See Detroit Like We Do.” But for many Detroiters, the banner, featuring a mostly-white crowd, was far from what Detroit looked like, with the city’s population being around 80% black.
No doubt, this ad would’ve made black people feel “invisible” and Detroiters inaccurately represented. Some even went so far as to suggest that this ad was promoting one of native Detroiters’ biggest fear – gentrification.
This is a little too on the nose for me pic.twitter.com/UkdFw5KQco
— philip lewis (@Phil_Lewis_) July 23, 2017
The Need for Multicultural Marketing and How to Get It Right
Often, multicultural marketing mistakes happen because marketers try to be funny, witty, or insightful while unknowingly promoting cultural stereotypes or being disrespectful to certain cultures. So they miss the mark and end up offending their target audience rather than winning them over.
At the end of the day, this results in expensive PR disasters that could affect the company’s bottom line. Some companies may see a decline in purchase intent, while others might experience a drop in sales as you can see in the cases of Pepsi and D&G. For some brands, these blunders could even cause a sharp decline in stock prices.
So the need for inclusive and tasteful multicultural marketing is very obvious to any brand that wants to thrive in a socially-aware and diverse market. This helps you expand your reach, appeal to a broader and more diverse audience, and avoid all those expensive PR blunders. Meanwhile, your audience gets more inclusion and recognition, not to mention solutions for problems that are unique to them. In other words, everyone wins.
The best way to get multicultural marketing right is to ensure that your campaigns go through a series of approval processes that involve a diverse team, lead by management who is willing to embrace opinions other than their own, to provide varying perspectives. This starts with investing in a customer-centric approach to marketing–meaning getting to know your target audience intimately to understand their thoughts, feelings, sensitivities, needs, and opinions. Regularly connecting with your target audience and focusing on what resonates with them minimizes the risk of ignoring major blind spots. Such an approach can prevent poor ideation and careless oversights because your team is going to detect them before it’s too late.
If your team isn’t a reflection of the diversity of your target audience, you can always call professionals that have the expertise you need. This will give the fresh and varying perspectives that your campaign sorely needs and detect any potential errors before you publish it.