Cross-Cultural Marketing: Race, Ethnicity, and Other Cultural Challenges

Successful cross-cultural marketing requires today’s organizations to be socially and culturally competent entities with vast understanding of people, language, ethnicity, race, and other demographic and sociocultural challenges characterizing institutions and society. Companies must seek to bridge the gaps between people and their race, culture, and other differences. This means hiring diverse value creators, valuing social justice and equality, and keeping the focus on creating and delivering superior value and satisfaction to all stakeholders regardless of human social and physical characteristics. Business is all about acquiring, growing, and retaining customers and catering to their differences as valuable segments with unique and diverse needs.  

Organizations should accept that all instances of communication and interaction with stakeholders represent and affect marketing as these serve to affect perception of customer value via Service, Quality, Image, and Price (Weinstein’s SQIP Diamond). As business organizations witness events like those in Charlottesville unfold, they must consider how America’s current ethnic and racial challenges affect marketing communications efforts and act in ways to become more ethically and socially responsible marketers helping to address society’s causes and problems. Racial and ethnic blunders in marketing communications are not new and have been influenced by the types of events characteristic of Charlottesville, as well as deeper historical and social-cultural prejudices we have been unable to overcome for centuries.

While much of the blunders involving high profile issues of race and ethnicity seem to occur with the type of marketing communication known as advertising, they are not limited to that element of the marketing communications mix. Here are some examples of marketing communications blunders involving race and ethnicity:

1.      In April 2002, Abercrombie & Fitch debuted a line of T-shirts using Asian caricatures portraying Asian American oppression from the past as forced and indentured laborers, mocked the Buddha, and depicting various stereotypes of Asians. As a result of public outrage, the company had to recall the series of T-shirts.

2.      In August 2012, two models for Abercrombie & Fitch in South Korea took photos of themselves posing with what is known as “Asian squinty eyes” to mock Asian physical appearance, and this almost drove the company out of the market.

3.      In August 2017, Google fired a software engineer, James Damore, after he wrote what is regarded as an “anti-diversity” memo [“Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber”] questioning Google’s diversity efforts, and in which, he argued that the comparatively lower percentage of women in technical positions was a result of biological differences instead of discrimination.

Long before Abercrombie & Fitch’s sociocultural-ethnic and racially insensitive marketing, many big brand companies experienced the negative consequences of not understanding how differences in culture, ethnicity, race language, and other factors affect marketing and reception to brands. Here are several examples:

1.      Pepsi’s 1960s “Come Alive! You’re in the Pepsi Generation” campaign which in the Chinese market translated to suggest that Pepsi brought customers ancestors back to life, something both offensive and impossible to Chinese customers.

2.      In the 1980s, when KFC debuted in China, the company’s popular slogan “finger-lickin’ good” was translated as “Eat your fingers off”.

3.      In 1992, Fiat, an Italian car manufacturer wanting to target modern independent working women in Spain designed a direct-mail marketing campaign for its Cinquecento hatchback by mailing out “love letters” on pink papers without indicating that it was a promotional creative advertisement. As a result, this led to panic among thousands of women with many refusing to leave their homes.

While we have made significant progress in some areas as far as race and ethnicity issues are concerned, there is still much to be done in terms of companies being more assertive and responsible players in addressing today’s social pains. Unfortunately, there are still companies that are feature racially insensitive marketing communications. For example, Colgate is still advertising and selling “Black People Toothpaste” (Hei Ren Yao Gao) in Asia, and we still see ethnic and racial undertones in movies and television advertisements.

Marketers must be knowledgeable and aware of issues of race, culture, and ethnicity in both past and present contexts and as a result, become more socially and culturally sensitive in their interactions with customers and other stakeholders. Cross-cultural marketing practices are important and companies and their leaders and managers need to invest in responsible and respectful marketing communications. Events such as Charlottesville can be used to educate employees on racial, ethnic, and cultural awareness as they act as value creators and providers for their companies. Moreover, companies expressing and showing solidarity on social justice and equality is a major reputation or image-building strategy that can lend support to such cause.

Image source:, 2017

Donovan A. McFarlane, M.I.B., Ed.D., D.B.A., is an Adjunct Professor of Marketing in the H. Wayne Huizenga College of Business and Entrepreneurship, Nova Southeastern University. He can be reached at

“Business” is not a dirty word!

From time to time some business students proudly announce their decision of following more “important”, “impactful” or “rewarding” areas, such as non-profit. Sometimes, the word “business” sounds as an inferior career choice, undignified in front of more “noble” causes, such as working for PETA or WWF. However, business is without a doubt a good guy in the fight against the evil forces. Businesses are key players in an economy and deal with the allocation of resources around the world, in a world where we suffer from scarcity. They also create jobs and incomes, promote economic development and, due to the global economy, contribute to increasing the standard of living for everyone. Last, but not least, businesses donate money and support numerous social causes, from global warming to microloans in underdeveloped countries. Just look at the example of the Gates Foundation created by Bill Gates.

The second “dirty” word that can be heard in business classes is advertising. Besides the sometimes hilarious ads that entertain everybody, most consumers, including business students, consider advertising the manipulatory member of the business family. It is true that consumers, regulators and academics have called in time for better efforts to improve the image and practices of advertising. However, less known are its benefits. Advertising feeds us information on a daily basis, it provides us necessary pieces of knowledge that help us make decisions. It also helps keep businesses in check and, many times, it acts as the market regulator, as comparative ads will surely underline the errors and weaknesses of competitors. Advertising stimulates competition, innovation and new product development, and many times it promotes freedom of communication. Nevertheless, it creates jobs and keeps the economy developing. After all, a well-developed economy is desirable for governments and non-profits.

Could we benefit from the presence of more ethical individuals in business? Absolutely, nothing could be truer. However, we cannot dismiss business as bad for society just because of a few “wolves from Wall Street”, just as we cannot belittle all non-profits just because some of them have been proven scams. Honest business and advertising are some of the best causes where you can be involved. Giving someone a job is a great cause.

Maria Petrescu, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor of Marketing in the H. Wayne Huizenga College of Business and Entrepreneurship, Nova Southeastern University. She can be reached at

Social Marketing and Social Media Marketing: The Public Health Difference?

In the past year, I've noticed what seems to be a misunderstanding between the almost 45 year old discipline known as social marketing and the recent rise in the notion of social media marketing. As someone who has spent the majority of their early career in healthcare as a medical provider, I feel it is important to provide a perspective of distinction from the public health point of view.

Someone may ask; "so what's the big deal? ’Social Marketing' and 'Social Media Marketing' are only one word apart, who cares? When did all of this begin anyway?" Great questions...I'm glad you asked.

As early as 1969, Philip Kotler and Sidney Levy captured the academic community's attention with their pioneering article "Broadening the Concept of Marketing" whereby the idea of social marketing was presented and discussed. Later, in 1971, Kotler and Gerald Zaltman formally coined the term social marketing. Although current wording of social marketing definitions may vary, the essence of the discipline rests unchanged. Kotler, Lee, and Rothschild (2006) defined social marketing as:

"Social marketing is a process that applies marketing principles and techniques to create, communicate, and deliver value in order to influence target audience behaviors that benefit society as well as the target audience (Kotler, Lee, & Rothschild 2006, p. 26).”

In other words, from a public health point of view, it's the use of marketing principles and techniques to solve public health problems. Rich with research and grounded in practical application, social marketing provides health professionals with the tools to develop programs to support healthy behaviors (Coreil 2010).

Applications (Cheng, Kotler, & Lee 2010):

Currently, social marketing principles and techniques are applied in various ways to benefit society and the target audience. Specific to the area of public health, four groupings tend to receive the most attention. The initial grouping is known as health promotion, whereby social marketing methods are used to promote health related behaviors such as tobacco cessation, obesity, teen pregnancy, cancers, and blood pressure. Second is the injury prevention grouping which targets behaviors common to injury such as drinking and driving, proper safety restraints for children in vehicles, suicide, falls, and household poisons. Behavioral issues related to environmental protection is the third area. Examples include matters related to waste reduction, wildlife protection, water conservation, and air pollution from automobiles. The final group is community mobilization which consists of behaviors such as blood donation, identity theft, literacy, and animal adoption.

While the area of social marketing began over 40 years ago, it is often one of the most frequently misunderstood. Today, the most common error is that many people seem to confuse it with social media marketing. Just do a quick Google search, and you will find numerous chat rooms, blogs, web pages, and videos that mislabel social media marketing as simply social marketing.

For clarity and over-generalization, social media marketing is a process of gaining website traffic or attention through social media sites (e.g., YouTube, Twitter, etc.). However, while social media is a critical part of the communication tools and channels for social marketing, the latter is a specific field of marketing practice, research, and education. As I mentioned earlier, there are various formal definitions of social marketing as well as numerous applications for social media focus and format. However, social marketing and social media marketing are dramatically different and should not be accepted as the same based on general references and hurried shorthand.

It is undisputed that the recent explosion of social media marketing campaigns has changed the landscape of how modern marketing strategies and tactics are executed. Likewise, it is widely recognized that social marketing has dramatically changed the way public health problems are being solved and is becoming a large part of the overall health domain.

It's important to recognize that experts in both areas continue to work hard as they explore innovative ways to advance their discipline. So as practitioners and academics alike, let's be sure not to minimize the value and significance of either discipline by mislabeling or lazy shorthand.


Cheng, H., Kotler, P., & Nancy Lee, D. (2010). Social marketing for public health. Social Marketing for Public Health: Global Trends and Success Stories, 1.

Coreil, J. (Ed.). (2010). Social and behavioral foundations of public health. SAGE Publications Inc.

Kotler, P., Lee, N.R., & Rothschild, M. Personal communication, September 19, 2006.

John F. Riggs, D.B.A., is an Assistant Professor of Marketing in the Huizenga College of Business and Entrepreneurship, Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Riggs has over 25 years of experience in healthcare as a healthcare provider, marketer, and sales executive. He can be reached at