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  • Mario Torres

The Fine Line Between Culture Appropriation And Appreciation In Advertising

Culture Appropriation controversies indicate how risky multicultural marketing campaigns are. One step in the wrong direction could lead to the brand facing backlash.

Culture appropriation simply means adoption of certain elements of a minority culture by a dominant culture, without permission. Let’s take a look at some of the examples of culture appropriation in ads:


Pepsi’s ad starring Kendall Jenner is a very recent example of culture appropriation. The ad features Kendall Jenner, being inspired by protestors who looked like the Black Lives Matter Movement. Kendall goes on to join the protestors and offers a can of Pepsi to the guards, which leads to the victory for the protestors.

The ad was accused of trivializing the Black Lives Matter Movement and depicting a “White Savior”. Pepsi was forced to apologize for the ad and had to remove it from all the media channels where the ad was being screened.

Tory Burch’s Summer Collection 2017

The brand launched a summer collection in 2017 and portrayed three white models dancing to “Juju on That Beat”. The song was actually sung by two black artists, and many believe that the ad should have featured at least one black artist.

Another issue with the ad was it showed a monkey sitting in the back of the car. The word ‘monkey’ has been used throughout history to insult and offend black people. Tory Burch released an apology, but the ad is still available on social media sites.


The leading beauty and online fashion store came under fire in 2015 after it launched its Halloween promotion. The problem was that it included Indian bindis in the product range. Although no reference was made about bindis being Halloween items, it came across as culture appropriation.

The shocked shoppers raised their concerns on the social media and started a widespread debate. ASOS issued an apology and removed the bindis from the Halloween section.

What can brands do?

Brand need to be very clear about the difference between culture appropriation and culture appreciation to steer clear of controversy. Making multicultural ads is important today, as brands need to connect with the increasingly diverse audiences.

So what can brands do?

Here are three factors that must be taken into considerations when making multicultural ads:


If the idea is to depict people from a particular culture or ethnicity, then respect is the key. Brands must do as much research as they can about the people, as this will ensure that the ad doesn’t contain any element that is particularly offensive to that group of people.


If a cultural element is being borrowed for an ad or promotion, then understanding the context of that element is really important. For example, a cultural element that has religious context shouldn’t be used in ads that have sexual inclinations.


Something that sounds catchy in English may not crossover very well when it is translated into another language. This is why brands need to be careful when using particular phrases. Creative testing is always necessary when making multicultural ads, so that brands can ensure that the language and concept sits well with the relevant ethnic group.

We are one of the leading multicultural marketing agencies and have over 14 years of experience in formulating ethnic marketing campaigns. Get in touch with us to learn more about what your brand could be doing wrong in any stage of a marketing campaign, whether it is strategy creation, creative development, media planning or public relations.

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