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Ensuring Cultural Sensitivity in Your Marketing and Advertising

5 minute read
Kaya Ismail avatar
Digital marketing has brought more effective communication with customers, but it's also brought a new set of challenges, cultural sensitivity in advertising.

The rise of the global tech industry has created new ways for companies to reach consumers. Advertisers increasingly find that one size does not fit all when reaching an international audience, especially as much of the world is becoming even more connected through social media channels.

Culture is an important aspect of advertising. In today's global economy, companies are forced to adapt their marketing strategies and tactics for different cultures. While some businesses choose to adhere to a homogeneous business structure that minimizes cultural variances, others use this as an opportunity to expand into new markets and reach out to new customers.

And Digital marketing has opened the door to that, with more efficient and effective communication with customers, but with it, comes a new set of challenges: cultural sensitivities in advertising. 

Why Cultural Sensitivity Is a Must for Advertising?

Let’s face it; no one wants to see a poor or racist portrayal of their culture in an ad. Just like we frown upon stereotypes and gross oversimplifications in TV commercials, street advertising, and everyday life, we must strive for cultural sensitivity in internet advertising too. 

Companies have to take into account cultural differences when creating ads. The ad may be well crafted in its native market, but it is different when used globally. Marketing and advertising companies should aim to develop culturally sensitive advertisements that resonate with their target audience. 

Petra Odak, Chief Marketing Officer at Brighton, UK-based, Better Proposals, believes that creating culturally-sensitive advertising isn’t as hard as it sounds. She says that “the best rule of thumb is to use common sense. You’re not targeting the entire world; you’re targeting a very narrow group of people and you probably know who they are very well. Try not to offend anyone and use common sense but don’t go overboard and be overly politically correct.”

Plus, knowing the culture you're targeting or representing in your ad is vital. You need someone on your staff who can look over the ad's copy, design, and messaging to tell you how they interpret it and how it might be interpreted in different regions. Here are some tips for building culturally sensitive ads. 

Related Article: Evolving Advertising with Contextual Personalization

Learning Opportunities

Include Every Possible Preference 

To make culture-sensitive ads nowadays, you must consider including all religions, races, and sexual preferences. For example, an ad for baby diapers should include babies of all colors to provide proper representation. When it comes to Valentine’s Day ads, it’s a good idea to include every potential preference to prevent people from feeling excluded. Also, some terms that might have been accepted even a few years ago may now be frowned upon, so proper research is essential. 

Be Mindful About Different Cultural Attitudes 

You should talk to each culture in a different way. For instance, just as Michal Strahilevitz, Professor of Marketing at Moraga, CA.-based Saint Mary's College of California, says, “you might have a sneaker ad just showing a male athlete exercising, and that can perhaps go anywhere. You might have another ad where a female is particularly empowered boxing match where she manages to knock down a much larger male opponent, and in some countries that very sadly won't work.” 

Serve Ads by Region

Losing disgruntled customers after releasing a culturally inappropriate ad can significantly impact your bottom line. Brands should be proactive rather than reactive. A strong focus on getting it right should be the objective for all brands. About this, professor Strahilevitz says that “in the United States we don't like to see pictures of the live animals who need to be slaughtered for us to be able to eat their meat. So we wouldn't show a live pig or live baby calves, and then pork chops and veal in a barbecue commercial.” Thus, when assessing an ad for release, the messaging (verbal and visual) should be scrutinized in many ways to ensure it passes the culturally appropriate test.

Research the Origins of the Words and Phrases You Use

If you are unsure about the origins of a phrase, run a quick Google search or avoid using it entirely. For example, if you’re using words in a foreign language, make sure that you comprehend what that word or phrase means in the context of the language you’re creating an ad for. If you are running international campaigns and you aren't familiar with their cultural norms, research them. Better yet, get to know someone from that region or bring an expert in to consult.

Final Thoughts

In the end, remember that becoming more culturally sensible starts with educating yourself. Many of the phrases that we've grown-up using may have racist origins and some imagery and symbols may be considered offensive in certain regions. Do your homework and use a culture sensitive approach, because a mistake can cost your brand big.