Recently we have witnessed the effect cultural insensitivity can have on the popularity and sales of an international brand.

H&M, a well-known clothing brand, featured a black child wearing a sweatshirt with the words “coolest monkey in the jungle” in their boys’ clothing catalogue. On the adjacent page, a white boy is wearing a sweater with the words “survival expert”.

The term ‘monkey’ has long since been used as a derogatory term for people of colour, with recent and widely publicised examples of this in South Africa. This display of racial insensitivity by H&M shows the disassociation the brand has from its foreign consumer demography and diverse retail market.

The clothing giant has suffered tremendously due to its oversight losing established brand partnerships with celebrities, damaging relationships with the media and most importantly with local consumers, minority groups in particular (#BoycottHM). This has tainted the brand’s image and eroded brand equity. And all this just after a downturn in sales and a 35% drop in the stock price was reported in December 2017.

This incident has occurred at a time when consciousness movements and social good are fast becoming defining topics of our time (#BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo, #TimesUp), indicating that consumers are more socially and culturally aware than ever, and have platforms to share their thoughts and opinions at a high volume and at any time they choose.

Recent surveys show that, compared to other continents, Africa and the Middle East’s consumer purchasing growth rate stands at 27.5% with 5.8% profits above gross. A brand entering these diverse markets can ill afford to alienate their consumers through cultural errors. Every effort should be made to conduct market research to underpin cultural differences and gain insight into the market which the brand is adapting a product or service for, by understanding the language, demography, marketing style, product category and service techniques.

Grant Lindhorst and Stewart Richard Gray have joined forces to form yourbrandculture.
With combined experience of over 40 years in market research, communication strategy, brand engagement and experience across large research agencies, retail and FMCG brands locally and internationally, yourbrandculture sets a new precedent in tackling the demands of businesses entering new emerging or growing markets, without reputational and long-term damage to equity.

Written by Grant Lindhorst, Stewart Richard Gray and Lindsay Breytenbach

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