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Broadcasting without borders: How brands can stop the cycle of cultural appropriation

Duncan Parkes, Co-Founder & Creative Director at CellarDoor asks, why do so many brands still fall short on the statements they make?

Duncan Parkes, CellarDoor

Co-Founder & Creative Director

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The Black Lives Matter movement has rightly placed racial injustice at the top of the world’s agenda, with brands uniting in a stand against systemic inequality.

It is the latest milestone in a growing trend where brands publicly demonstrate social awareness and voice opinions on world events. Data demonstrates that consumers are increasingly engaged with brands that stand for more than just their bottom line, however, with this newfound moral compass, many are being held to account by those same consumers who are swift to unravel a marketing rhetoric or promoted content if it is at odds to the brands general practices.

In short, if a brand does not practice what it preaches, consumers will know and be vocal. So, why do so many brands still fall short on the statements they make?

Social media is a vast and vocal mob. And like all mobs, when the streets are alight, it is easy to be sucked into rally cries.

Duncan Parkes

Jumping on the brand-wagon

To truly connect with a community, it takes more than a single blacked out Instagram tile or rainbow logo once a year, yet many still find themselves guilty of jumping on the brand-wagon.

Whether you consider Marks and Spencer’s LGBT (lettuce, guacamole, bacon and tomato) sandwich to be a misappropriation of Pride or not, many consumers found themselves unable to reconcile the introduction of capitalism, through a meaty-filled pun, in a month celebrating the self-affirmation, dignity and equality of its community.

The recent Black Lives Matters protests also drew every brand and organisation together to join the global conversation, but how many will still be driving change once the voices quieten?

In truth, social media is a vast and vocal mob. And like all mobs, when the streets are alight, it is easy to be sucked into rally cries. Most brands enter these debates for the right reasons, but without a plan of action, it can often serve only to exacerbate the ongoing cycle, leaving consumers to question, whose awareness were you really raising?

Beyond tokenism

So, how do brands make a difference and ensure their words are not hollow?

Many organisations have cited reform in the representation and positive promotion of diversity and equality within their structures. But brands must also reflect on their own creative processes and the marketing of their products. Understanding the conscious and unconscious bias we all have within ourselves will allow brands to consider the impact their marketing will have on those around and avoid the exploitation of causes and cultures.

The Royal Society of Science recognised within their own practices the unavoidable presence of unconscious bias. To ensure the findings they publish and share are scientifically robust and have the widest perspective possible, they created principles which allowed them to track any bias that may impact findings.

The principles are as follows:

·  To deliberately slow down decision making

·  Reconsider reasons for those decisions

·  Question cultural stereotypes

·  Monitor one another for unconscious bias

It is through the questioning of ourselves and each other that we can encourage debate that will broaden the depth of our statements, and ensure cultures are nurtured and maintained, not capitalistically mined.

Brands can and should support issues. But be wary of overstepping what is appropriate and find the right way to support the causes that matter.

Duncan Parkes

Context and communication

In the quest for relevance, brands can find themselves in a conversation where at best their voices are not adding value, and worst simply are not welcome. Regardless of how well intended the actions or messaging may be, cultural appropriation refers to a power dynamic where the dominant absorbs from the oppressed, taking the spotlight away from the heart of the issue and putting a marketing veneer on it.

Brands can and should support issues. But be wary of overstepping what is appropriate and find the right way to support the causes that matter. Even if that means not being recognised for it.

Brands must consider the following:

Context

If a brand does not understand the context, history or implications of the references they make, they become ill equipped to predict the impact it will have. It is not to say brands should not challenge the status quo or use their social reach, but rather understand with greater depth what they are challenging and why.

Research integrity

Only through research and understanding can we hope to make change. We must reflect on the past to help move forward. Ensuring integrity is upheld before launching a new product or making a claim that draws influence from another’s culture is critical, so slow down decisions and ask more questions.

Communication

The way to support cultures that are not your own is to ask questions, not make statements. Maisha Z. Johnson of Everyday Feminism stated, "you can avoid appropriation by listening to the people whose culture you want to participate in." Let theirs be the voices that are heard. Not your own. Unless the brand adds something deeper and more impactful than simply allegiance to a cause.

Follow through

For every brand who supported Pride or raised their voice to be heard for Black Lives Matters, it is time to stand up and be counted. Make your quest for social equality part of your DNA and not a marketing slogan.

Guest Author

Duncan Parkes, CellarDoor

Co-Founder & Creative Director,

About

Duncan Parkes is the Co-Founder and Creative Director of the best boutique agency you’ve never heard of, CellarDoor. A creative studio that works with brands to build cultural integrity and authenticity through every touchpoint within the food and leisure industry. As a passionate advocate for the power of good design, Duncan is also currently creating his own food truck and fashion brand side hustles. If you can’t join them, beat them.

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