The Faculty of Economic Management Sciences at the University of Pretoria (UP) recently hosted a webinar about more inclusive approaches that need to be taken towards the marketing of products, and the impact that negative advertisements can have on businesses as well as employee morale, job security, happiness and motivation.
This comes in the wake of the recent controversy over a Clicks advertisement of a hair product that was seen as depicting black African hair as being dry and damaged, and Caucasian hair as flat and fine.
The discussion, which was titled At Crossroads: Reimagining Management Sciences and Inclusivity, was facilitated by Professor Nasima Carrim, Associate Professor in the Department of Human Resource Management. It featured an expert panel of UP academics: Professor Alewyn Nel, Head of the Department of Human Resource Management; Dr Tinashe Ndoro, a senior lecturer in the Department of Marketing Management; and Dr Olebogeng Selebi, a lecturer in the Department of Business Management.
In her introduction, Professor Stella Nkomo, Strategic Professor in the Department of Human Resource Management, remarked that the standards of beauty date back to the days of colonialism, when whiteness was seen as superior. “Systemic racism refers to a dominant racial hierarchy that praises white people at the top and other racial groups at the bottom in respect to advantage superiority and disadvantage inferiority in all spheres of society, including our bodies. What makes systematic racism is its deep entrenchment; rooting out systemic racism requires a deeper understanding of its meaning and action to address it.”
Dr Selebi felt that the advertisement was offensive and tone deaf on the part of Clicks, and pointed to an indication of deep systemic racist; however, she said, it is not a black or white problem, but something engrained in everyone. “As South Africans we have a lot of issues that we need to deal with.”
Dr Ndoro was in agreement, adding that the fact that there was a public outcry was a clear indication that the advertisement evoked negative emotions, and that it was offensive and ill-thought through. “There is a lot of work to be done, especially by marketers – they need to be conscious of diversity and fully understand their environment.”
“More consultation could have taken place,” said Professor Nel, who explained that marketers need to be aware of the society that they operate in. For him, it was clear the ad had no clear systematic pilot of the marketing campaign, and no clear discussion to get the message right – thus leading to reputational damage.
A marketing team needs to be critical, and fully understand the environment and how diversity plays a part, Dr Ndoro offered. If the marketing team is diverse in age, race, gender perspectives, then different viewpoints would come across – the more diverse a team, the more creative business will be. Marketers, he added, should do proper research and make informed decisions that will be received well by consumers.
Professor Tawana Kupe, UP Vice-Chancellor and Principal, who attended the webinar, asked how new institutional cultures can be co-created so that diversity can become meaningful rather than a surface phenomenon. In response, Dr Ndoro said it is important for people to appreciate the benefits of diversity because it creates creativity, and through that, marketers are able to solve problems more effectively – this enhances problem-solving skills.
Dr Selebi noted that it is vital that marketers change their mindsets to inclusivity and diversity, especially in South Africa. She said many businesses feel obliged to be diverse because of policies like BBBEE. “Businesses need to realise that inclusivity is an asset as far as diversity is concerned, and that we should capitalise on our diversity.”