When Keeping it Real Goes Wrong

There's one thing I love to see on social media, and that's when brands respond to each other's memes, jokes, and trending topics on Twitter. It shows a knowledge of your audience, attention to what competitors are doing and how they're using social media, and a sense of humor - three things that every social media manager should have.

So when Hamburger Helper, a popular brand on Twitter, started using slang terms and memes popular with Black Twitter, my interest was piqued. At least at first.

Enter Denny's. Around the time Beyonce did a surprise release of her new album, they posted this:


Yeah, that happened. I thought it was cute and timely.

Then, Hamburger Helper came back. First, this:

Then, this:

Most recently, IHOP wanted in on it. They tried, but I gotta say that it didn't quite work:


This was a reference to Mystikal's Shake it Fast....and it felt flat, if not for any other reason than the fact that they didn't even shorten "pancakes" to "cakes."

On the surface it looks like a couple of brands having fun - which is totally okay. But the problem I have is that they are clearly attempting to speak to a specific audience - an audience they assume are patronizing (and maybe can only afford) their brand. And yes, I would dare say - a Black audience.


Do I think multicultural marketing and outreach is important? Absolutely, and I wouldn't be in this field if I didn't. But I do think that when marketing to people of color, you must understand that not every Black person (in this case) is the same and we certainly do not talk the same. 

That's the issue I have with it. Not with brands responding to each other or having fun in general, but having fun at the expense of Black people, and talking the way they think Black people talk.

Cultural competency isn't about adopting rap lyrics and using Black slang or ebonics to reach a Black audience - it's about recognizing and understanding that Black people are not a monolith, and that we are multifaceted, and then taking that understanding and crafting your messages based around how diverse communities of color are. I hope in the future, brands learn the difference between cultural competency and straight up appropriation and stereotyping.