Crazy Rich Panthers: 4 Tips in Using the Power of Cultural Marketing
For good and for bad, identity politics have become a distinctively unavoidable issue in the past few years. It is impossible for one to not note that the Christchurch gunman, who I steadfastly refuse to name, is an Australian and in the manifesto he shared just before the attack, there are mentions of a ‘white identity’ and clear anti-immigrant sentiments. Over in Indonesia, the presidential election was repeatedly characterized as a battle between the secularists, represented by the incumbent Joko Widodo, and hardline Islamists, represented by Prabowo Subianto.
The term identity politics has mostly taken a negative stigma thanks to events like these and the rise of Donald Trump and Brexit, both of which were marred with racist undertones. It’s certainly upsetting, not the least because identity politics used to actually be a good thing, used as a rallying cry for minorities and the marginalized communities to reclaim their self-determination. A form of identity politics is also commonly used in the world of content marketing in a practice known as cultural marketing.
So, what exactly is cultural marketing?
Simply put, it’s a marketing practice that promptly displays a certain cultural identity, whether it’s racial, national, gender or a self-made one like veganism, in its content. That description is admittedly too academic so it might be easier to illustrate this practice is an example and luckily, there have been a lot of them in the past few years. Take for example, the global popularity and critical acclaim garnered by the 2018 films Crazy Rich Asians and Black Panther, which features an unabashed display of Asian and African & African-American culture, respectively, rarely seen in mainstream Hollywood blockbusters.
As someone who is decidedly not black, it is impossible for me to accurately and truthfully say just how significant the film was but it’s also impossible for me to not notice the proud display of African and African-American culture in the film, a culture that I’m only familiar with through my appreciation for rap music. By tapping into a culture that’s been predominantly left untouched by Hollywood, the film managed to reach an audience that’s been mostly underrepresented while also making converts out of people who aren’t familiar with the culture.
In the case of Black Panther, an online challenge named after the film began trending after the release. The challenge, started by philanthropist Frederick Douglas, encouraged others to set up a GoFundMe page dedicated to help impoverished African-American kids to see the film, which was then given a global platform when Douglas showed up on the Ellen DeGeneres show with Chadwick Boseman, the Black Panther himself, to talk about this challenge Douglas started. Almost all of Marvel films up until that point have been widely talked about but none has managed to hit the kind of cultural impact the way Black Panther did, and this is all thanks to the work of cultural marketing.
Cultural marketing can be a powerful tool but it’s a slippery slope between cultural marketing and cultural appropriation. To help you take advantage of this practice, here are 4 tips you could use in cultural marketing.
Embrace your history and identity
The film Black Panther ends with the titular hero revealing the true nature of his country, the fictional African nation of Wakanda, to the world. It is somewhat ironic given the fact that the film proudly wears its identity on its sleeve is exactly why the film managed to reach its cultural status. The majority of the cast and the director, Ryan Coogler, is African-American and Ruth E. Carter, the costume designer for the film, became the first African-American to win an Oscar for Best Costume Design thanks to her work in the film. They key element in cultural marketing is to embrace your identity.
Dig deep into your personal and company history and share why you started the business in the first place. You might think that your identity has nothing to do with your business but that couldn’t be further than the truth. An artist’s work reflects their own perspective and their perspective is undoubtedly shaped by how they see and experience the world and how a man sees the world would undoubtedly be different compared to how a woman sees the world. No matter how small, anything you do reflects you and by embracing this truth, it could make it easy for the public to find a common ground with you and your business, which could help in fostering a connection.
Proudly displays your core values
As I’ve said near the beginning, your identity could be something that is self-made. It could be because you’re passionate about animal rights or you’re very passionate about plastic waste or even climate change but the key is in making sure that these values are clearly communicated in your branding. To promote transparency, a local shoe company that I know outlines the breakdown of each product’s cost. A certain amount goes to the material while others go to labor, packaging, R&D and the rest is pocketed as profit. It’s a small gesture and I don’t exactly have any idea whether they’re telling the truth but I’d be lying if I said this doesn’t garner a measure of respect from me.
Showcase your staff
Black Panther isn’t just predominantly African-American in front of the screen; the same thing also applies to the people working behind the screen. I’ve mentioned Coogler and Carter but Hannah Beachler, the production designer responsible for the afro-futurist styling of the film, and Joe Robert Cole, the co-writer of the film together with Coogler, are also African-American. Your team should also represent the values and identities of your company and you can also show this by taking a behind-the-scenes look at your staff in social media or by sharing a short employee profile, with their consent of course, in your website or on social media.
The difference between cultural marketing and cultural appropriation is authenticity. Black Panther succeeds because what you’re seeing on screen represents the actual people working in the film. You can definitely fake cultural marketing but it’s a bit like performing a play for the rest of your life, the mask would inevitably fall off at some point. If you feel like there are no actual values of identity to latch on, you might have to first find out what does you and your company stand for. Trust me, there’s nothing sadder than someone without integrity.