Consumers Can See Through an Agency’s Tone-Deaf Ads

Memes and social media stunts can end up being PR nightmares if handled incorrectly

Diversity efforts in advertising need to be genuine or risk isolating consumers who see through forced efforts.
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Today, it’s increasingly important to know, learn and mold the persona your social account or brand portrays. Who do you want your brand to be? Who do consumers think you are? Do certain target demographics view you as an outsider? Are you a complete reflection of your audience?

Brands look at consumers through a lens of either “for you” or “not for you.” Typically, what made a particular brand “for you” was reserved to its use value and whether or not your peers were consuming the products.

As a minority, I felt there was always an extra factor required for my personal identification with a brand. I’d look for images of myself in that brand’s ads and hope something would align with me and my peers’ specific interests. Before becoming a copywriter, I didn’t know how few minorities worked in the ad industry. Today, I always pay attention to the smallest things in brand voice, like slang, cultural references and granular details, like which users are retweeted by brands. I look at social content from the brand’s point of view, working to imagine the real person behind it.

In the same way marketers and advertisers create targeted customer personas, consumers create their own views of a brand’s persona. It’s extremely important for brands to know who their audience thinks they look like. You can see these discrepancies when brands develop messaging to target a specific demographic and more so when that targeted audience finds it inappropriate or offensive.

What often happens is those newly targeted demographics call brands out for suddenly being so inclusive.

You’d think inclusive messaging would be a plus and everyone wants to be seen by big brands, but what often happens is those newly targeted demographics call brands out for suddenly being so inclusive. Minorities believe the best way to talk to an audience you don’t belong to is to have an influencer from that audience do it for you. From the perspective of a black social media community manager, clients and their stakeholders may not fully represent me as a consumer.

When I create content, I often have to get into character to reach a client’s preferred audience, removing many facets that give me and members of my community our own unique identity. At times, I transform into a generic, unidentifiable person who’s not obviously black. I find myself changing the language and phrases I use to be more “appropriate” or “palatable” for a white audience. Whatever it takes to mask my real identity. Why? Because my type of black has been and still is (for most brands) deemed off brand.

My colloquial language, as innocent as it is, is still viewed as uneducated, unappealing and substandard, even without spelling errors and perfect punctuation. These small suppressions of innocuous cultural aspects reach beyond language and into nearly every facet of daily life. For me and many other African Americans, portraying a white individual can be a critical method of survival and the determinant of professional success. A white individual portraying their idea of a minority audience is not and has never been a necessity. It’s simply not cool, to say the very least.

Using slang etymology to reach a black audience can result in disastrous social media backlash and turn into a PR nightmare for brands. Terms and phrases like “issa,” “bye Felicia” and “shade” can have a strong negative impact on a social campaign. Additionally, taking advantage of memes, such as BBQ Becky, can highlight injustices faced in the black community, even if some cultures re-meme the subjects to make relatable jokes out of their plight. Though these memes may be created in jest by the black community, it would be wildly inappropriate for a brand that didn’t have the public perception of being for black people to participate in the fun.

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