How to Utilize Cultural Awareness to Up Your Marketing Game

In 2018, corporate fashion mogul H&M released a problematic social ad promoting a new line of clothing they were selling for young children. The reason the ad made headlines was the text featured on a sweatshirt modeled by a young black boy, reading “Coolest Monkey In The Jungle.” Social media erupted in outrage, noting the racist history of the word “monkey” when being used to describe the black community. H&M apologized for the incident, but the damage was already done. later included it in “The 7 Most Embarrassing Branding Mistakes of 2018.”


The incident was most likely a mistake, but nevertheless it demonstrated the importance of cultural sensitivity by major brands when using social media. Never before in history has the general public been able to protest so quickly. Similarly, never before have branding mistakes been visible to so many.


Cultural awareness is especially important when considering the fact that leads are often converted through social media. A loss of respect by a brand’s following via social media leads to less sales and diminished brand loyalty. How can a brand remain authentically sensitive to cultural activism while effectively marketing their products through social media?

Being Aware of Hot-Button Issues

The widespread sensitivity to cultural issues is especially prevalent in headlines right now due to the extreme nature of social insensitivity within political arenas. Having an ear to the ground and staying informed is important on an individual basis. But on an organizational level, an added level of sensitivity is required. Some believe that employees of big corporations should be required to undergo cultural sensitivity training, which could eventually prevent related marketing trouble.


But social media has brought a new level of cultural interaction with its global impact. The need for cultural sensitivity matters because the amount of diversity and a potential reach is automatically international. Additionally, social movements tend to be international as well, such as the #MeToo movement.


When movements such as that happen, businesses also have a choice to use their social platforms for good. In the case of #MeToo, taking a hard stance on sexual assault and even going as far to share guidelines to consent could be a way to be culturally sensitive and engaged. Additionally, celebrating immigrants and veterans, as well as Black History and Pride month, would be helpful for showing acceptance of potential customers in marginalized communities.

The Opportunity of Conversation

Much of winning leads on social media comes from engaging in conversation with followers. Some companies do this humorously (such as Wendy’s), but others keep it business-casual. In the case of many businesses, starting a conversation about social issues has made their following much stronger.


A company that’s done a great job in creating cultural conversation is Ben & Jerry’s. The brand has been supporting social justice since the 1970s and made headlines in 2016 when they publicized their support of Black Lives Matter. Most recently they’ve been pushing for mental health attention within Miami schools.


Ben & Jerry’s is also a good example of social listening. When a Twitter user tweeted approval of their BLM support but stated they were “lactose intolerant,” they responded saying “thanks for the support. We do have 4 Non-Dairy flavors.” Their product promotion was a natural result of social engagement. Other brands that begin important conversations and listen to their followers are Netflix, McDonalds, and Merriam-Webster.

Avoiding Inauthenticity

Maintaining and engaging cultural sensitivity is one thing. Ensuring that it’s done with sincerity is another. Being too promotional reads like a red flag to consumers, and a business may foster a bad reputation if they use cultural concerns as a way to improve sales.


Yet regarding this authentic attitude, a very important aspect of resource management is expertise. While a company’s resources often include technical expertise, those who run social campaigns may not always have the best cultural know-how. Therefore, it’s good to have staff members with extensive knowledge and experience working in a diverse cultural landscape, so they can tell when a well-meaning action comes off as a cash grab.


Thankfully the way that technology has allowed for collaboration has enabled better systems of checks and balances in these cases. Due to things like the cloud, the many human components of a marketing funnel will hopefully be able to catch unintentionally insensitive material. Of course, this has to be utilized properly, or else social faux pas can seriously affect your brand.


And that’s why a social media shift to culturally aware positioning must be genuine. Brands that try to capitalize on hot-button issues ineffectively may find themselves losing followers quickly. But to remain aware of such issues and engage in the important parts of culture is necessary to survive in the social media age. Organizations should do so authentically grounded in their principles.