When cultural appreciation becomes cultural appropriation.

When cultural appreciation becomes cultural appropriation.

Borrowing bits and pieces from other cultures for marketing purposes can be hazardous to a brand's health.

Companies such as Victoria Secret have been under fire of late for cultural appropriation for their fashion show outfits that clearly display a misrepresentation of aspects of other cultures. The brand displayed an Indian headdress as an accessory for one of their outfits as well as a Chinese dragon in another. Designer Marc Jacobs received backlash for its use of dreadlocks on white models.

Pepsi was criticized for exploiting the Black Lives Matter movement in an ad that featured Kendall Jenner joining a protest and offering up a Pepsi to a police officer guarding the crowd. This ad caused uproars on social media with people feeling angered about the message that they felt was demeaning. The media felt that Pepsi tried to use their brand to exploit the suffering of the black minority. As stated by Eric Thomas, senior partner and brand specialist at Saga MKTG, "this is what happens when you don't have enough people in leadership that reflects the cultures that you represent."

How can brands respect and honor diverse cultures without insulting consumers?

By its simplest definition, cultural appropriation is using pieces of other cultures without having or showing a respect or understanding for that culture. There are many ways in which popular culture and advertisers can avoid this mistake.

  1. Give credit. There is nothing wrong with pulling inspiration from other cultures, but when you do, give proper credit. In doing so, it shows that there is a level of respect for the culture and people of that culture. The British clothing line Superdry gives credit to the Japanese culture that inspires their designs.
  2. Do your research. By creating a diverse environment within your staff, the chances for misunderstanding and producing what may be thought of as an offensive message decrease. If hiring people is not an option, reach out. Make sure that the culture that is featured is represented accurately and positively. Cultural appreciation is about focusing on the unique characteristics of a group of people that others admire and wish to celebrate.

Cultural appreciation is the right thing to do, and it's the right thing for your brand's bottom line. Growing your brand by connecting to more cultures starts with growing your understanding and finding relevance.

For more on understanding your audience read "The first rule of brand authenticity: Know your audience."

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