The Oban Blog

Foot in mouth marketing and how to cure it

Foot in mouth marketing and how to cure it

Years ago, when a brand hit a cultural sour note, two or three customers would write courteous letters of complaint explaining that in your latest advertisement your background music had been adapted from religious music and should not be used in advertising.  The advertisement would be discretely changed, the agency would get a flea in their ear, and forever more that client would check every recommended soundtrack for a new ad within an inch of its life.

Now more than half of customers will complain if they are disappointed with a brand’s words or actions on a social issue. 17% say if you offend them, they will never come back (Accenture Strategy Global Consumer Pulse Research 2018).

Recently, three large names have hit the news for all the wrong reasons

Kim Kardashian has been forced to rename her new ‘Kimono’ shapewear line, which is not remotely related to the traditional Japanese garment, following an outcry on social media for what was considered a blatant disregard for Japanese cultural history. The easy shareability of #KimOhNo became too strong for even the strength of the Kardashian juggernaut to resist.

The Dalai Lama showed a startling lack of awareness in a post #MeToo world and commented on the requirement for a female successor to be ‘attractive’… ”otherwise [people would] prefer not [to] see her…”.  He was subsequently ‘cancelled’ by the Twitterverse.

Nike chose to pull their new Independence Day inspired trainer after complaints about its use of an early version of the American flag that has come to symbolise white nationalism.

This has left an almighty mess to clear up

Kim Kardashian had only just launched her brand, so it’s back to the drawing board with all the associated costs and delays.

The Dalai Lama has issued profuse apologies and clarifications.

Nike finds itself in a no-win position commercially. Having pulled the trainers, they are now being accused by several high-profile politicians of being unpatriotic and the Governor of Arizona has withdrawn financial incentives for a planned manufacturing facility in Arizona.

Brands really need to get on the front foot (sorry Nike) with cultural nuances.

It is no longer acceptable to get it wrong, cry mea culpa and hope for brand forgiveness. The long-term potential damage to your brand’s reputation is too much of a risk to take. Now that so much advertising runs internationally, it is essential to get a local cultural perspective at the earliest possible stage in any project. This is not just making sure the language and imagery are correct – it’s making sure the context, historical, political and spiritual overtones are correct. If you get the cultural feel right, it engenders brand trust. And brand trust delivers sales.

If you get it wrong, you can end up waving goodbye to cash, reputation, time, a large swathe of your hard-earned customer base and – if you are responsible for marketing – probably a good night’s sleep.


Sarah Jennings, CEOSarah Jennings | CEO, Oban International

Oban International is the digital marketing agency specialising in international expansion. Our LIME (Local In-Market Expert) Network provides up to date cultural input and insights from over 80 markets around the world, helping clients realise the best marketing opportunities and avoid the costliest mistakes.