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cultural mistakes to avoid on social media by global brands

Cultural Marketing Mishaps by Brands With Massive Backlash From Social Media Followers

  |   CultureShocks Blog

Social media is one of the single most powerful marketing tools in today’s digital age. These readily available tools have the potential to spread brand messaging to millions of individuals in minutes. Sometimes, however, that is not a good thing.

While social media has the ability to elevate brands to new heights, it can also provide the exact antithesis if executed improperly.

From time to time, companies try to cash in on trending hashtags in the most inappropriate of ways, and in turn, severely damage their brand reputation. Some of the most ill-conceived corporate tweets have come from sheer ignorance or blatant disrespect for another culture. These are not moments any brand wants etched in internet infamy.

In an effort to help your company side step some easily avoidable social media marketing mistakes, check out these five misguided moves made by popular businesses.


1. Understand Political Tensions


obama and putting as an example to avoid political tensions to avoid cultural mistakes

When posting tweets or Facebook updates involving other countries, it is important to understand the current political climate to avoid stirring any controversy.

Soda conglomerate Coca-Cola failed to do just that at the end of 2015 when the company posted a seemingly innocuous image of a snow-covered Russia. The well-manner image sparked a slew of angry responses from Russian users claiming that the depiction was outdated, leaving out several regions, including Kaliningrad and Crimea.

Coca-Cola apologised several days later through its official VKontakte page, and included an updated image that reflected several of the missing territories, Russia’s western Kaliningrad exclave and the Kurile Islands, as well as Crimea. The update in itself sparked further outrage as the Kremlin had seized and annexed the Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula back in 2014, which led to western sanctions against Moscow. The update led to a flood of upset Ukrainian social media users expressing their disdain for the corporation with the hashtag #BanCocaCola.

Soon after, the soft drink giant deleted the post altogether and figured that it wasn’t worth the trouble.


2. Be Aware of Foreign Laws


be aware of foreign laws social media to avoid cultural mistakes

In the world of social media, hiring celebrities to promote products is the norm. That’s the entire point of influencer marketing campaigns. But cultural marketing can go horribly awry if you aren’t aware of promotional laws in different parts of the world.

In an effort to leverage the widespread soccer culture prevalent in the United Kingdom, Snickers decided to pay Manchester United player Rio Ferdinand, along with four other social figures, to tweet out images of themselves eating a Snickers bar with the phrase, “You’re not you when you’re hungry”.

The problem, however, is that in the United Kingdom, if a celebrity is paid to endorse a product, that information must be disclosed. The social posts caught the eye of the UK’s Office of Fair Trading, who ultimately investigated the matter. One OFT official commented by stating, “Online advertising and marketing practices that do not disclose they include paid-for promotions are deceptive under fair trading laws”.

Snickers did come clean, confirming that all celebrities were paid for the promotional tweets, and the Office of Fair Trading later cleared the candy company of any wrongdoing. Despite getting let off, companies should take this as an example of what could happen when you are not crystal clear on the laws of the area where you are marketing your product.


3. Familiarise Yourself Before Posting


cultural mistakes when searching in internet

Misinformation is posted in mass all across the web. There are no internet police – you have to monitor your own messages diligently. When it comes to cultural marketing, however, brands should know better than to post without researching an area.

Delta Airlines made one such haphazard post when attempting to congratulate the United States on its win over Ghana in the World Cup. The airline tweeted two separate images side-by-side in an attempt to recognise each of the countries; the Statue of Liberty for the United States, and a giraffe for Ghana. This was a massive oversight by the company as giraffe’s are not native to Ghana.

It was later discovered by Twitter user @dcGisenyi that the image Delta posted was actually a stock image from the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya; which is over 3,000 miles away from Ghana.

Many poked fun at the company for their ignorance; and rightly so.


4. Be Respectful


being respectful is a tip to avoid social media mistakes.-min

MTV may not be known for its intelligent programming or cultural sensitivity, but earlier this year the company had to issue not one, but two, apologies after the MTV Australia Twitter channel posted a culturally insensitive, and what some even considered racist, tweet to the social network.

While Golden Globe presenters Eva Longoria and America Ferrera were shedding light on Hollywood racism, MTV Australia tweeted, “Where are the English subtitles?”

This spawned a hailstorm of disgruntled tweets. The original message was removed and an MTV Australia spokeswoman later told the Huffington Post that it was a “poor joke”.


5. Keep Your Opinion Private


keep your mouth private to avoid cultural mistakes

Over the past several years, many have been very vocally supportive about equal rights for homosexual individuals and “gay culture” overall. And then there are those that haven’t been.

Chik-fil-A faced a major backlash over its public stance in opposition of same-sex marriages. After the company’s CEO expressed his disappointment over the Supreme Court’s ruling via Twitter, the company faced an avalanche of offended followers. The reaction was so adverse that the story spread to national news outlets, was tweeted by celebrities, and many even called for a boycott of the chicken chain.

Sometimes, for the sake of brand reputation, it’s best just to keep your thoughts off social media.


These are only a few of the cultural mistakes brands have made on social media in recent memory; the official list is far more extensive. Take note of these blunders, and let them inspire you to be sensitive, thoughtful, and respectful to all when posting cultural materials to your social channels.

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obama and putin cocacola crimea on how to avoid brand damage

How to Avoid Geopolitical Brand Damage

  |   CultureShocks Blog

Nobody wants to get caught in a fight between Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama, least of all if you’re the brand guardian of the most popular global carbonated soft drink on the planet. In December 30th a massive outrage erupted in Russia after the publication of a seemingly innocent map designed to celebrate the end of the New Year.

It’s no laughing matter to get caught in the middle of an argument between Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama, especially if you’re the brand guardian of the most popular carbonated soft drink on the planet. At the end of 2015 Coca-Cola published a seemingly innocent map depicting Crimea as part of Ukraine, sparking outrage amongst VK (Russia’s most popular social network) users.

cocacola without crimea on how to avoid brand damage l textappeal

Russia without Crimea: Russians offended

Russia’s bringing Crimean territory back into the motherland is highly popular with the local population. And while Coca-Cola’s link with Ukraine may please the American administration, it offended Russian nationals.

coca cola santa clause on how to avoid brand damage by textappeal

Is Santa an American provocateur?

VK was instantly saturated with fury against the iconic American brand, suddenly seen as an “Evil Imperialist” out to humiliate the Russian people. Could it be that Santa, the beloved figure popularised by Coca-Cola, was actually an American provocateur in disguise?

Although an innocent faux-pas, the map was all the more damaging as the brand was making a deliberate effort to tap into a local mindset via Russian cultural references.

cocacola with crimea on how to avoid brand damage

Crimea part of Russia: Ukrainians offended

In response to the VK community seething with outrage, Coca-Cola made a somewhat perplexing, 180-degree marketing translation turn. Instead of defusing the situation, Coca-Cola released a new version of the map that included Crimea and several other disputed territories within Russia’s border.

The move angered Ukrainians, who called for a boycott of Coke products. Following a barrage of angry tweets and images of Coca-Cola being flushed down toilets, the soft drink giant apologised and removed the offending map altogether.

This is far from an isolated incident. With frontiers quickly shifting in various parts of the world and cultural sensitivities running high, brands cannot afford to rest on long-held assumptions about national borders.

What to do?

how to avoid geopolitcal brand damage, textappeal

The CIA’s website is a good source for marketers to track geopolitical change

Microsoft has led the way by establishing a division that tracks geopolitical and cultural risk: all marketing executions are vetted by it, and its database of cultural issues to avoid is gradually enriched over time. Unfortunately this resource is not publicly available: the software giant sees it as a strategic asset.

The CIA’s website ( is probably the best resource to stay up to date with geopolitical change. It provides some of the most accurate intelligence in the world, openly publishes a surprising amount of information, and is free!

Textappeal can help keep marketers and their agencies safe too, by systematically checking brand materials for cultural and geopolitical issues, validating executions for travel, and advising how to deal with cross-border dilemmas that may result in brand damage.

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