Early in January, Swedish retailer H&M released an ad in the UK that showed a 5-year-old black model wearing a hoodie that read, “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle.” The ad set off a global backlash that clearly took the brand aback. Celebrity musicians cancelled partnerships, and in South Africa, protestors ransacked some H&M stores. Across social media, users accused the clothing brand of racism.
In response, H&M released a statement explaining that the incident was unintentional, and that they’d hired a new global leader for diversity and inclusiveness to ensure such a mistake was never made again.
We are no longer living in the marketing and advertising world of Mad Men and martinis, where any ad or marketing campaign will fly. So in today’s world, how do you effectively market to your audience without offending?
1. Be Culturally Aware
When creating a new ad or marketing campaign, it’s important to not only think of your target audience, but to take a step back and see what’s happening in the world overall on a cultural level. Then analyze that information in order to understand how it should influence your marketing.
Until a few years ago, Super Bowl commercials catered to a mostly male audience. Budweiser’s 2004 “Tune Out,” featured a football ref able to ignore an angry coach because of time spent ignoring his nagging wife, and from 2005-2017, Carl’s Jr. commercials showed scantily clad women eating giant hamburgers. These ads reinforced negative, sexist stereotypes for both genders, and now seem cringe-worthy, especially in light of recent events.
According to the NFL, women now comprise 45% of the league’s fan base. And over the past year, the women-led and men-supported #MeToo and #TimesUp movements speaking out against sexual harassment and assault have grown into a massive drive for change. Advertisers seemed to take the message to heart; Super Bowl LII commercials steered clear of anything that was overtly sexual or that could be construed as demeaning toward women.
2. Be Thoughtfully Creative
Your marketing should grab attention and engage your intended audience. And that means making sure it hits all the right notes creatively. Before okaying creative—especially if it uses humor—think about it. Will it offend anyone, or add or detract from the message? Will it frustrate readers/listeners/viewers who don’t understand the humor or reference? Perhaps most importantly, does it complement your brand?
And this includes social media. Yes, it is possible for a brand to be creative and humorous via Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. But don’t be like the NBA’s Houston Rocket’s Twitter account, which in 2015 combined emojis and some twisted humor to symbolize the Rockets finishing off the Dallas Mavericks—whose mascot is a horse—in the NBA playoffs. The tweet (shown below) caused an uproar on Twitter, and caused the Rocket’s social media manager to lose his job. Lesson: Pause before you publish, and get another opinion if you think your post might cause trouble for your brand.
3. Don’t Be Afraid to Seek Help
On that note, know when to ask for help. Marketing your brand is difficult, and navigating today’s cultural waters can be especially tricky. If you’re second-guessing every social media post, unsure of how to market yourself, or have already experienced backlash of your own, it’s time to call in the experts.
Agencies—such as Harmon—have creative teams who have the knowledge and skills to walk that fine line between edgy and appropriate, all while staying on brand. This allows you to stay focused on your business. If you find yourself struggling with your marketing, reach out to us today. We’re here to help.