This year, Starbucks decided to change up its iconic red Christmas cups. Whereas previously they featured Christmas trees, reindeer, and other signifiers of the season, the company opted for a simple red cup for 2015. The expectation was that this change would signal an openness to alternative holiday celebrations.
The move backfired. Online critics accused the company of taking Christ and Christmas out of the holidays, while Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump took the opportunity to suggest boycotting the chain.
Starbucks was trying to be all things to all people but in doing so alienated its core demographic, making this ad a major gaffe of the 2015 season.
While it's possible to turn these epic marketing failures into opportunities, isn't it better to avoid them in the first place?
Connecting With Multicultural Audiences
If you're looking to authentically engage with wider multicultural audiences, then you need to learn the following three lessons:
1. Define the Right Audience for Holiday Campaigns. The elimination of Christmas imagery from Starbucks' red cups was meant to avoid alienating multicultural audiences. While Christmas may be the biggest holiday of the year in the U.S., it's not relevant for many multicultural segments.
Most Asian countries, for instance, don't celebrate Christmas, and so tailoring a holiday campaign to that market would not be effective. Would Starbucks really make gains in that market by cutting the imagery and sticking to the red? No. The cup makes no difference for this audience.
2. Insert Important Cultural Cues. Once you've nailed down your audience, you need to add unique signifiers to your campaign with some cultural nuance. Walmart's Filipino commercial does a great job of this. The average viewer might not spot the cultural cues, but these grab onto Filipino traditions to boost the company's image.
Thanks to Manny Pacquiao, boxing is a major sport in the Philippines, and so of course a pair of boxing gloves has to go into the "balikbayan box." Similarly strong is the company's South Asian commercial, in which a family video chats on a tablet, reflecting the audience's technological advancement.
Catering to these audiences is not just about piggybacking on other cultures; it also requires acknowledging the intermingling of traditions that occurs when various ethnic groups move to the U.S. These newer Americans naturally enjoy and celebrate all different holidays, and so campaigns that mix the two cultures can be very appealing.
Target did a great job with this approach in targeting Hispanic consumers in the U.S. The company ran a two-day event in Los Angeles called "Skeletown Square" that tied the American Halloween with the Mexican Day of the Dead, embracing both cultures. At the Hacienda Calaca station, for example, kids could decorate a sugar skull for Day of the Dead or a pumpkin for Halloween.
The campaign was hugely successful: More than 10,000 people attended the event, and it generated more than 3 million media impressions that week.
Marketing might once have been a one-size-fits-all kind of business, but campaigns that fail to reflect this interconnected, multicultural world will no longer make the desired marks. If you want to engage with those multicultural audiences, then you need embrace their cultures in your marketing efforts.
Original post on INC.com here: http://ow.ly/ZELnz