Do Better, Brands – by Hannah Hall

Imagine this – you work for a popular, international retail brand that has spent an abundance of money on their marketing strategy across all platforms, such as social, broadcast, and print media. You are given specific, detailed distribution instructions to follow based on the elaborate strategies they have paid to create, yet you notice flaws in their plans. Do you alter their plan on your distribution end in an effort to correct the issues, or do you ignore what you know is wrong because it is technically not your decision? Does your opinion change if it is a diversity-related issue, and it becomes an ethical feeling that the brand should have done a better job?

Unfortunately, I experienced the aforementioned situation. A brand I worked for but will not name regularly sends a marketing strategy for their media channels to individual retail stores to distribute. It does simplify the amount of work the individual stores have to do on their own, but it becomes problematic when the plans are not viable. However, as a popular brand, much less an international one, there must be more consideration in regards to promoting diversity.

The specific issue occurred, when the brand did a collaboration with Marvel. The collaboration brought in all types of customers of various ages, races, and genders. It was colorful, fun, and appealing – all the things you could want in a solid collaboration. The marketing materials for the store itself were immersive and impressive, especially compared to much less intriguing displays they have done in the past. However, the social media content they provided was where the problem arose.

In one of the scheduled posts, the caption was about favorite heroes and specifically named each of the other avenger characters in the photo, except for Black Panther. I found it very odd from a marketing perspective because he was the center point of the photo. Regardless of it was a mistake, it was already a diversity issue in my opinion as the caption could have been something completely different because it was unnecessary to name the other characters anyway. The issue worsens when you also know the timing; the collaboration launched and was promoted in February, which is Black History Month.

To me, the issue became an ethical decision I needed to make. I had to choose to either follow the specific plan I was given and expected to follow or alter the caption because it felt wrong on multiple levels. On a personal level, I felt disappointed in the brand, and on a societal level, I was in disbelief that an expensive collaboration and senior level marketing team failed to see how that could negatively impact their brand image and offend people of color. I decided to alter the caption, and due to the small following the account had, it did not matter as much that I did not follow their exact plan, but I would have chosen to alter it no matter the size because it felt ethically wrong. It may sound dramatic to some, but it was devastating to me because this was a company I was not only working for but had higher expectations for in relation to promoting diversity since they are an international brand. That disappointment is also what motivated me to discuss the issue because even with brands we love, we must hold them accountable and not dismiss their mistakes.

The importance of discussing this problem is that it could have been much worse and more damaging. For example, a young Black child could have seen the caption and been hurt that the only avenger that looks like him or her was not meant to be a favorite character; representation is important, especially to children, and Marvel has done a good job promoting diversity for a brand collaboration to possibly tarnish that. Additionally, it is the fact that no one in higher up positions for the brand caught how the caption could have been problematic, which means other issues like that could occur, even potentially on a larger scale. It could be theorized that maybe there is not enough diversity in the higher positions for the brand.

In summation, it is important for all brands to be held to higher standards when it comes to promoting diversity because with large platforms comes large responsibility. Brands have to be held accountable for their mistakes because those minor mistakes can be devastating and hurtful, especially to people in their target market who then also become disappointed and no longer loyal to the brand. One suggestion to avoid most brand image issues is for all brands to have diverse team members, who can bring together different and unique perspectives and cultures. Another suggestion would be for brands to do customer-based research on who makes up their target market to better understand and relate to their audience; if the company is international they especially need to better understand their customer demographics and cultures different from just where their headquarters are located. This specific issue that was experienced and topic was based on the race aspect of diversity, but it could easily be related to other aspects because overall, when it comes to promoting diversity, brands need to do better.

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