Like it or not, we live in the global age.
Telecommunications, satellites, the internet... we are increasingly connected to
people in the far reaches of the world and they are connected to us. This
interconnectivity has brought about many positive effects - one could argue
that the more we're connected to people around the world, the more we might
care about people in different countries and from different backgrounds.
But there are potential negative consequences too. What if, for example, an advertisement uses cultural references that make perfect sense in one country - only to be completely misinterpreted in another? A few years ago the ad would have never seen the light of day outside its country of origin. But in the age of Facebook, Twitter and Youtube, borders don't really exist, at least as far as information is concerned.
The scenario I've just described is exactly what happened with an Australian KFC ad. Before you play the ad embedded below, I want you to first think about your cultural background. If you are American, you will likely find the ad offensive - or at the very least, it will send off the "not-PC" alarm in your head. If you are from Australia, New Zealand or even England - you will probably have no idea what's going on and why people would consider this ad even remotely offensive.
Depending on your cultural background, you probably saw one
of two different things. If you live outside the US, particularly in a country
that plays cricket, you most likely saw an Australian cricket supporter sitting
in the middle of a crowd of West-Indies cricket fans. He's in an ‘awkward
situation' because he's an opposition team supporter and he breaks the tension
by handing out a bucket of KFC - the aptly named "crowd pleaser".
No problem, right? Not quite!
If you are American then you very likely saw a white guy handing out fried chicken to black people - playing into a common racial stereotype - and you may have found the ad offensive.
The internet has erupted with controversy over the ad, which was eventually pulled in Australia, despite the fact that no-one in Australia complained about it. Keep in mind, the ad was never broadcast in the United States; it only found its way there via YouTube.
The real issue here is cultural misinterpretation. This racial stereotype does not exist in Australia, and given that the cricket supporters in the ad are West Indian, not African American, it is no surprise that Australians are a little confused as to what the fuss is all about.
The fact is, if this ad had just been viewed in Australia there wouldn't have been an issue - period. If it had been aired in the States...well, it just would never have been aired in the States. Most Americans I know have never even seen a cricket game, which is further evidence of lack of cultural context.
This is only the most recent in a long history of cultural advertising blunders - here are a few more examples:
- When Pepsico advertised Pepsi in Taiwan with the ad "Come Alive With Pepsi", they had no idea that it would be translated into Chinese as "Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the dead."
- Scandinavian vacuum manufacturer Electrolux used the following in an American campaign: Nothing sucks like an Electrolux.
- Clairol introduced the "Mist Stick," a curling iron, into German only to find out that "mist" is slang for manure. Not too many people had use for the "manure stick".
- During its 1994 launch campaign, the telecom company Orange had to change its ads in Northern Ireland. Their successful campaign "The future's bright ... the future's Orange." However, in Northern Ireland, the term Orange suggests the (Protestant) Orange Order. The implied message that the future is bright, the future is Protestant, loyalist... didn't sit well with the Catholic Irish population.
However, the KFC ad is one of the first examples I've seen of an ad that is completely accepted in its own country, only to kick up controversy in another.
If this is the future of advertising then it marks an unprecedented paradigm shift: You don't just need to worry about the culture you're promoting too, you also have to worry about every culture that might come into contact with your ad.
It's very easy to be dismissive of these situations. Many Australians think the situation is ridiculous and are calling it "political correctness gone too far". However these people are missing the point too. The point is this ad is offensive to Americans - and the question is, should this affect how Australia advertises?
My initial reaction was NO WAY! But then I remembered this:
For those who don't know, this is the Haka, which is a
traditional Maori (New Zealand's Indigenous population) war dance most commonly
seen performed by the All Blacks, New Zealand's national rugby team. In this ad
it is being performed (badly) by a group of Italian woman (the Haka is
traditionally performed by men).
I'm not an overly sensitive person, but I wasn't happy with this ad - at the very least because it showed an utter disregard for the culture heritage of the Haka, which is something steeped in tradition and meaning. And I can certainly understand how it could be incredibly offensive to Maori. In this case, the adverts use continued - no one really cares that much when New Zealand kicks up a stink.
But how would you handle this? If you received an email from someone saying that the way you were promoting your website and affiliate product was culturally insensitive - even if they were from a culture that was not the intended recipient - how would you respond? Do you ignore their feelings on the matter, or do you respect the fact that there are cultural sensitivities you don't understand, and make changes to accommodate as best you can?
I want to hear your comments - but I don't want a debate on whether the KFC ad is racist (though you can certainly state your personal opinion!). The fact is that people of one culture find it offensive, and people of another don't. Also, as a side line, we won't tolerate any derogatory comments aimed at other users or groups of people - keep this debate civil people!
Finally, this is my last blog post for Affilorama.com. I'm leaving the company (and the country) to move back to Seattle. I've really enjoyed my time here at Affilorama and getting to know many of our users. Good luck to all of you in the future and I wish you success in all your endeavors - online and off :)