I was scrolling through my favourite social media platform recently (if you don’t know what that is then you really haven’t been paying attention and I feel offended) and I came across some sentiments that are really starting to perturb me. Some people have begun to believe that brands are purposefully stirring up black outrage as part of a wider marketing campaign to get more brand attention and other people are believing what those people are telling them.
As we know this year has been a year of PR disasters for major brands, from Pepsi to Dove these brands with multi-billion pound budgets have made nonsensical missteps when it comes to their advertising campaigns. These missteps have led to social media users voicing their outrage/concern/confusion/bemusement and for the brands to backtrack, take stock and usually issue a standard apology. The latest in this series of missteps is the Muller Rice’s latest advertising campaign featuring rapping bears:
— T R E N C H (@trenchmag) November 7, 2017
When I initially saw this on TV I was actually shocked into silence, not only because it was steeped in awful, tacky stereotypes but it was a clunky, corny advert for what should be a basic product. This is not the first time that Muller Rice has used rap to sell its cereal/rice pudding/oats concoction, a couple of years ago they used Vanilla Ice’s Ice Ice Baby for an advert and it worked – it wasn’t racialised, it was a bear rapping to a remix of a song about rice pudding. It worked. It wasn’t too much it was just enough:
But unfortunately they had to take it too far with their latest advert. Remember Robert Downey Jr’s risky parodic (problematic but they knew it) role in Tropic Thunder when he tells Ben Stiller’s character to never take it TOO FAR when you’re going into character that is essentially what Muller Rice did with their latest advert. They took it too far.
Advertising, Marketing, Sales, PR are all part of the same family in that ultimately they want to keep consumers happy enough to stay loyal to a brand and keep a brand making money or keep a brand popular. Advertising is a visual form of communication that is designed to promote a product/service and to encourage people to spend their money on that product or service. Marketing in its purest form aims to inform consumers about a brand through a series of activities that build awareness which includes advertising campaigns (but is not exclusive to advertising). So if an advert does not do a good job consumers will either stop trusting the brand or choose not to spend money with the brand. The worst case scenario is if the advert offends then the brand reputation and credibility of the brand is put into question and a PR disaster occurs as the subsequent relationship with consumers is diminished and trust is lost.
So here we come to the crux and purpose of this piece.
When advertising departments/agencies get their content signed off by major brands the intention is to improve brand awareness, build brand loyalty and ultimately improve sales but if you end up offending an entire group of potential customers this will not happen. Black outrage is not part of this equation, it does not serve as some kind of hidden agenda to get people to pay attention to the brand. The insensitive/offensive/misjudged adverts simply make brands look ridiculous and out of touch and highlights that either there are not enough diverse/inclusive teams in these companies or that any “minority” staff in those teams are not given adequate positions of influence or power to block these missteps.
When these adverts come to light black outrage is not a driver for improved brand reputation and increased sales, it is not a marketing ploy. Black outrage in and of itself is a powerful tool to make these brands pay attention and whilst I understand that it has been used by media platforms for click bait tactics, it is does not work the same way in business. This is why social media has become such a driver for social change, without it we would continue to see brands overlook tangible diversity and inclusion and maintain a lack of social awareness. Why do you think so many of the major make up brands have only really started to up their game since the launch of Fenty Beauty, black outrage turned into black action, with black consumers becoming tired of being invisible in the product lines and adverts of these brands.
Mainstream beauty industry has been lying to & scamming black women since the dawn of time! It took Rihanna to prove that point in HD! YES! https://t.co/DmHrlRBe1v
— Ronke Lawal (@ronkelawal) October 27, 2017
Black women turned their outrage at being consistently let down by brands like L’Oreal into consumer spending power not only making money for Fenty Beauty but also making money for other brands that pay attention and respect black people and black money.
Did L’Oreal at least attempt to understand why Munroe said what she said?https://t.co/axCcxdXp42
— Ronke Lawal (@ronkelawal) September 1, 2017
When a brand lets you down, you stop buying from that or you make an effort to look for alternatives. If you cannot boycott the brand, e.g. Dove is owned by Unilever which pretty much has products in every aspect of our lives so it would be pretty difficult (not impossible) to boycott Unilever. You can shift your attention to independent, smaller businesses and bless them with your money and use your outrage to empower fresh dynamic brands.
Your voice has power!
Your spending power is important!
I fear that by people believing the ideology that the creation of black outrage stirred up by these brands is some kind of strategic marketing ploy will silence many, encouraging them to ignore and overlook these missteps. Now is not the time to be silent though, now is not the time to turn a blind eye. Collective noise and action in whatever form, be that through social media or elsewhere is a powerful tool for the under-represented. Do not give these brands a pass, keep speaking up when they mess up, shame them into doing better because we all deserve better, not only when we’re spending out money but in life in general.
Watch this dinner discussion I had for #CookTalk with AngryBlackWunmi where we discussed this intricacies of this topic.