Don't Be Racist: A How-To Guide For Advertisers When Common Sense Isn't Enough
Every few months we are assailed with some stereotype reinforcing, cultural appropriating, microagressive commercial that totally misses the mark.
Ahh, the problematic ad.
From Kendall Jenner's superhuman ability to leap structural racism with a single soda can ...
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... to this lone brown Kelloggs Corn Pop going about his janitorial duties against a thriving metropolis of leisurely cereal beings.
Culturally insensitive advertisements have become as ubiquitous as the absurdity of the 45th president's Twitter timeline. Every few months, we are assailed with some stereotype reinforcing, cultural appropriating, microagressive commercial that totally misses the mark.
Nivea is a perpetual line stepper.
And this Brazilian manufacturer managed to flush an expression of black pride right down the toilet.
Most recently, H&M kicked off their 2018 with a problematic ad featuring a young black boy modeling a hoodie that states "coolest monkey in the jungle."
These are just a few of the tone deaf ads that somehow managed to pass from conceptualization to production, through focus group testing, all the way to your television, timeline and downtown billboards. How does this keep happening?
I mean, avoiding this kind of embarrassment seems easy enough, right? Don’t be condescending. Know the difference between appreciation and appropriation. Show a little empathy for people who have different experiences than you. Basically, just don't be a jerk. Apparently this simple ask is more difficult than it seems. What are we missing here?
Assuming plausible deniability, here are some ways that advertisers can avoid the embarrassing cycle of creating, apologizing for, and ultimately retracting these kinds of offensive ads.
1. Don't Be Dismissive.
Contrary to popular belief, minority communities do not enjoy being offended. The burden of constantly having to explain, justify and convince others of the validity of our perceptions is exhausting.
LISTEN to us! Stop being offended by our offense. Stop minimizing our concerns. Respect our perspective, make the correction and move on.
2. Rethink Your Focus Groups.
If #BlackTwitter had received an advanced glimpse of any one of these risky ads, this would have been their actual, real time reaction.
So, maybe it's time to expand the approach when it comes to focus groups. How about offering your diverse, well-informed social media audience an opportunity to provide advanced (compensated) feedback on potential ads? It would save you a lot of headache.
3. Recruit Diverse Candidates.
There are more than 30 HBCU's across the country that are graduating talented and creative marketing majors, and many of those graduates would welcome the opportunity to help you effectively market your products and services in ways that aren’t offensive to the communities they know best.
Think of the diverse perspectives they can bring to your idea sessions. Revamp your recruitment strategies, tap into diverse professional associations, seek out candidates who think, look and perceive differently than you and then nurture a corporate climate that actually embraces those differences. Having a multicultural workforce is a competitive advantage in more ways than one.
These steps, applied proactively, can go a long way in preventing another ... situation.