Archive for February, 2018

Cultural Appropriation and Brand Advertisements: What Could Go Wrong?

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Image from ethicsalarms.com

For PR folks, the Ford Superbowl LII ad for Dodge pickups raises the issue, if not of diversity, then of extrapolation without context. The ad came under fire almost immediately for using excerpts from one of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Drum Major” speeches, under compelling visuals, to promote the pickup brand. While not among the most offensive examples of commercial appropriation, it does raise questions of corporate insensitivity and points to the dangers of perhaps well-intended marketing folks extrapolating information—even for well-intended, though nonetheless brand-promotion purposes—without a full appreciation and context for what’s being used. Let’s examine more closely why this is a good case in point of good intentions backfiring.

Clearly, the focus of the ad is serving—humanity helping humanity at all levels of the human experience. What could be wrong with that? Next point is that the ad was an obvious bow to our nation’s recognition of February as the “official” African-American history month, ergo, the use of Dr. King’s thought-provoking words and speech. The problem with juxtaposing the two ideas into a commercial spot for trucks is more clearly spelled out in this AL.com story originally from the Washington Post. Bottom line, Dr. King goes on in this same speech to talk about the dangersImage result for dr. king public domain of materialism, and particularly uses the purchase of expensive vehicles as an example. The context would surely be a double-edged sword for a commercial message, especially for an automaker.

Many found the ad insensitive, at the least, even without knowing the full context or full speech. The clear lesson for PR, advertising and marketing folks, once again, is before adopting cultural messages and touchstones into brand ads, be sure you understand the full context.

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