Demonstrating cultural relevance in PR campaigns

Whether you are using PR to boost business or awareness, being consumer-centric is the key to successful campaigns. That means, having a deep understanding of the target audience and their culture. What can go wrong, if and when cultural relevance is totally ignored? Case in point, the recent PR fiasco of Marks & Spencer, where it was offering deals on Indian food to celebrate Chinese New Year! The company was called “culturally blind” for its PR mistake.

Campaigning for different markets requires cultural sensitivity, the awareness of the culture and how it impacts a particular target audience. As culture impacts the way people are and how they think, hence its importance cannot be ignored. PR is as much about culture as it is about communication. Just running a campaign in a local language doesn’t make it culturally relevant, although understanding linguistics is a part of it. 

Market-specific campaigns 

A crucial point to remember is that, repeating campaigns for different markets shows deep neglect of cultural differences. Humanity is diverse across the globe. How can then we expect people to be influenced by the same message? Instead of communicating the same thing the same way across the map, tailor-made messages that speak to a set of audience in a language that they understand, keeping in mind the nuances that govern their mind-sets, will have the desired impact. 

To avoid inadvertently hurting the sentiments of the people, the knowledge of their historical, political, economic or even environmental conditions is important to ensure the timing, tonality and the message itself hits the right note with the people it is intended for. Last year, Brooke Bond’s Kumbh Mela advertisement featuring a father-son story having a religious event as the backdrop invited criticism, many calling it forced and unnecessary. It’s an example of how marketers didn’t quite gauge how their efforts could be read as insensitive and offend a set of people.

When looking to increase sales make smaller, focused targeting a part of your strategy. Topical campaigning on cultural occasions that resonate well with a particular set of audience often work well. Look no further than the approaching Valentine’s Day which has been a favourite of a multitude of brands to run campaigns, banking on the emotions that day brings. Just last year, Uber India had launched #LoveMovesForward campaign to sign an online petition to have a pride heart emoji to celebrate the first Valentine’s Day after the decriminalisation of 377. 

Research before you leap

Given the times we live in, there is no room for error. Any campaign must be backed by research which doesn’t have to be time consuming. With the use of AI and data analytics, finding historic trends and analysing sentiments has become much simpler. Intensive research of the target audience, what they consume in terms of media and the medium they prefer etc. helps in planning an effective PR strategy. Especially for brands that are looking to cross borders, the key is to adapt to the law of the land and construct strategies keeping in mind the events occurring in a particular area, to assess what would work and what’ll fall flat. 

Being supported by strong research allows you to be authentic, which in this day and age, is of prime importance for any brand. What you are communicating, when you are communicating as well as the way you are can affect the brand image. When a brand with no history of taking a stand on a social issue puts out a campaign during a social movement, it can send a message of the brand being opportunist as well as inauthentic. 

A deep understanding of the audience, in terms of the beliefs they have, the traditions they follow and their collective history should always be taken into consideration when forming PR strategies. Humans are attracted to people and brands that share similar values, with whom they can feel some connection that feels genuine. Deep down, we all wish to feel at home and being valued is a part of it. The same principle applies when looking to engage consumers with your brand. Whether you are looking to gain more visibility either by informing, persuading or motivating people, cultural relevance should be at the heart of it.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Asif Upadhye on Twitter
Asif Upadhye
Director at SPRD
Asif Upadhye, Director, SPRD | Stories.PR.Digital, a new-age Public Relations think tank backed by ideators, wordsmiths and design junkies focussed on delivering bespoke services. He sees SPRD as a Digital First Communications agency that partners with Public Relations & Corporate Communications teams to spread the good word!

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