With the use of smart devices and social media as primary means of connectivity, today’s consumer is both smarter and more vocal than ever. You add in the rise of cancel culture and an uptick in social consciousness, and it seems nothing goes unnoticed or unaddressed by consumers when it comes to how brands show up in today’s marketplace.
Just recently, Walmart found itself at the center of a consumer controversy with the release of a “Juneteenth” themed ice cream that fell flat when it came to consumer opinion. The release was met with immediate backlash and many took to social media to express how damaging it is when brands capitalize off of the exploitation of the experience of one group of people. Walmart eventually pulled the ice cream from their shelves and issued a public apology.
Perhaps the most unfortunate part of Walmart’s misstep is that it is not the first—and most likely not the last—example of how CPGs get it wrong.
Pepsi placed a white celebrity at the center of a commercial, indicating that sharing a drink is the solution to the social injustice at the height of the Black Lives Matter movement. H&M missed the mark with a little Black boy modeling their “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle” hoodie. Gucci sparked major outrage over their blackface turtleneck sweater. Dove faced the heat for a “whitewashing’” advertisement that transformed a Black woman into a white woman after using their new soap. It’s surprising how global brands, with access to extensive market data and research to inform their decisions, can still fall victim to these levels of marketing mishaps.
Despite extensive resources made available to today’s marketer from DEI to best practices,, there seems to be a trend where many brands are only making a concerted effort in the right direction after a public backlash from an avoidable misstep of viral proportions.
There are however, many CPG brands getting it right and Hershey Black Music Month Campaign is one clear example.
In June, Hershey partnered with Memphis Music Initiative to elevate Black voices while creating actionable solutions that supported the next generation of Black creators. This collaborative campaign centered Black voices at the core of the message. The stories were illustrated for and by Black creatives – the same audience being targeted. Cause marketing is a mutually beneficial approach that allows CPG brands to better serve a diverse audience while strengthening their corporate social responsibility.
So, how can you keep your CPG brand on the right side of successful campaigns?
Let’s start with a few questions that you may want to ask yourself about your own CPG marketing processes.
Where did Walmart (and other brands) go wrong?
It is common for food and beverage companies to introduce holiday-themed products. So, when Juneteenth became a federal Holiday on June 19, 2021, it was expected that companies would run to their marketing departments to start strategizing all the ways to make a dollar from it.
Corporations that honestly want to highlight social causes, commemorate historical events, or even contribute to philanthropic movements or activism, must proceed cautiously. There is a high level of awareness and sensibility that needs to frame their participation. Assuming what is acceptable without the input of the target audience, is a sure step in the wrong direction. Misappropriation has been at the forefront of these failed campaigns – and it’s almost always because corporation leaders believe that they have enough knowledge and experience to narrate stories of other people and cultures without their input.
Consider engaging in or supporting volunteering or ethically oriented practices. Take a grassroots approach to your campaigns by partnering with community-based organizations and community leaders who are already on the ground doing the work. Center them, their cause, and their mission at the forefront of these campaigns. Instead of simply using their faces for profit, lend your global platform to further their vision and amplify their voices.
Why It’s Important for CPGs to Bring Diverse Voices to the Table.
The easiest way to avoid call-out culture and the embarrassment of pulling products and issuing public apologies is to diversify the faces at the decision table. That starts with your hiring process and who you are making a part of your team – at every level.
Ask yourself this question honestly: When it comes to racial diversity does your corporation hire seat fillers or key team players? In other words, do you hire to look like a diverse company but operate otherwise?
Diverse faces, means diverse experience, and ideas from a global perspective. That means fresh ideas, more innovative approaches, successful marketing, and a broadening audience of consumers…satisfied consumers at that.
No matter how long your brand has been on the market, there is always a need to learn and relearn what you think you already know about the industry. Where diverse people and cultures are concerned, be sure to involve them at every step of the campaign process to ensure that the final product does not misrepresent them, their communities, their ideas, or their cultures. CPG companies cannot continue to assume that their decorated resumes in marketing and brand strategy qualifies them to make those decisions, while continually misrepresenting BIPOC on tv, print ads, and on our products.
Start by taking a deeper look into your company and the commitment you have to redefine the ways you market to Black people and all people of color. How well informed are your decisions? Who and what is influencing the direction of your campaign? As CPG industry leaders it is necessary to ask these questions and have real conversations with BIPOC. Your marketing process should require you and your teams to listen attentively, incorporate what you hear, and revise and refine the final touches – all with their input.
It’s a process that requires diligence and oftentimes, going back to the drawing board. The truth is, unless they are part of the storytelling, it may only be a matter of time before your CPG company is at the center of online backlash for a product or campaign that should have never happened.