Recently, the Swedish apparel company H&M has been in the news for a racially insensitive ad that inferred that a black boy was the ‘coolest monkey in the jungle’. I don’t want to harp on why this was culturally insensitive or the subsequent feelings against the company that has resulted in the aftermath of this marketing faux pa. Because truth be told this isn’t the first or last time something like this will happen. There was the Dove Commercial video that made it look like African American women were washing off their dirty skin to become white women. There was also the Pepsi commercial with Kendall Jenner that mocked the police brutality protests, insinuating that all the world needed was a pepsi to solve the problem. The reality is, problems like these will continue to exist as long as companies continue to not include people of color in their companies and marketing departments.
Being in the Culture But Not of It.
I used to work at a marketing agency and I was the only black marketer they had. This agency also worked with various brands that were apart of and marketed to the African American culture. Now, it’s nothing wrong with people that are not African American marketing to that community. But there will always be a certain piece missing if the marketers really don’t understand or care about the cultures they are marketing to. Certain things like the H&M mistake will continue to happen. See, I am not only apart of the African American community, I live and breathe it. I’m apart of #BlackTwitter. I’m in conversations daily about what we need, what we want, and what we like. That’s something that no matter how engrossed White America is with the African American culture. White America will never fully understand.
Now, as I stated before just because you are not African American does not mean that you can’t market towards us. But other cultures will have to put in the extra research and work it will take to better understand what’s going on in the culture or community. Take time to understand the history of the African American culture. Understand why we see things the way we do. Search hashtags on Twitter to look at conversations. Join Facebook groups. Become immersed in the culture. Don’t just have conversations with more people outside of the culture that have no clue. Then afterwards make decisions based off of ignorant conjectures.
Why Companies Need Black Voices
Less racial marketing blunders will happen if companies had more Black voices. Black culture leads when it comes to entertainment, fashion and even sports. African American voices are the ones dictating the cool. Last year Hip-Hop was declared as the biggest music genre, surpassing country and rock. So why aren’t there more Black marketers in decision making positions at these companies? It would definitely help companies to avoid future backlash and also help companies to capitalize on trends that are becoming popular in the African American community.
Look, the world is changing. Gone are the days where we needed or even wanted big brands to feel untouchable. Now, we want brands to represent and speak to us as personal and authentic as possible. The tide is turning to independent brands who are willing to really represent who we are and not just have us represent their brand as we consume it. If brands are not willing to embrace this fact and attempt to really understand communities of color. Then these brands will inevitably be left behind.