If 2017 taught advertisers anything, it is that casting is key to your campaign efforts. Just ask Trivago, Nikon, Ikea, Dove and Giordano, all of who displayed brazen complacency in their casting choices. More recently, fast fashion retailer H&M got into hot water over its depiction of a black child in a hoodie with the text reading “Coolest Monkey in the jungle.”
While H&M probably thought, it was a celebration of ethnic diversity, whoever cleared the ad did not know enough about the history of racism and its representation. H&M has since apologised, but it has done little to douse consumer fury.
Creating a successful ad campaign does not hinge on one single factor. The idea, storyline, execution, cast, music, sound and lighting all play crucial roles. So, why does casting alone get the short shrift by agencies and brands? If anything, with the rise of globalisation, cultures and identities are crossing borders and boundaries faster than ever. The issue of casting is trickier still in Asia-Pacific. We are a diverse region, with different looks, cultures, and experiences. So, it is important not to lump us into one homogenous mass.
At 90 Seconds, we have the privilege of working with some 16,000 video creators in more than 110 countries, so we have learnt a thing or two about casting choices. Here are our learnings:
Study the market you are targeting
A good first step to avoid any backlash is to respect the culture of a market. This includes representing people, habits, imagery and nuances accurately and in the right context.
While this may sound obvious, brands need to invest in research, local insights, and an understanding of the culture. Marketers can no longer simply replicate global or regional campaigns in local markets and expect success. A wrongly portrayed ad not only means wasted ad spend, but it can also hinder brand image and customer trust in the longer term.
Tread carefully with risqué content
In mid-2013, Ford and JWT India created a series of sexually offensive ads showing women bound and gagged in the trunk of Ford hatchback. This was not long after the gang rape in Delhi rocked the nation. Ford and JWT were forced to withdraw the ads and several top executives at the agency were fired. In Australia, Meat and Livestock Australia – typically known for its hysterical ads -- got in trouble for casting someone as a Hindu deity, considered vegetarian, and showing him toasting lamb.
If you’re aiming to do multicultural ads or sexually suggestive content, please make sure you’re entrusting a diverse group of people with creating the ad message and imagery.
Be diverse and inclusive
While we do not suggest doing diversity for diversity’s sake, it is important to be inclusive in a natural way. Today, national identities are becoming blurred – and this is not only true for Singapore or Australia, but even for traditionally mono-cultural societies like Japan, as acknowledged by Toyota in its 2017 campaign.
Furthermore, diversity goes beyond nationality. Nikon demonstrated how having 32 all-male brand ambassadors can impact one’s brand equity.
Multicultural marketing means more than just lining up a group different people. If you are operating in a multicultural market, you have got to create ads that reflect what these consumers actually look like and how they behave. Brands, agencies, partners need to demonstrate their commitment to diversity by hiring diverse talent that represents society.
Consumers are sharp. Just because The Simpsons got away with Apu for the longest time, it does not mean your brand will. That is exactly what happened to Ikea when it launched a series of ads promoting a new store in Malaysia. The ads were aimed at men and their problems, and even went as far as to suggest that these problems are caused by the women in their lives.
Thankfully, there are brands that get it right. Detergent maker Ariel India won a Cannes award for creating a campaign that showed how stereotypes have hurt Indian women. Remember, not all geeks wear glasses and men can also do the laundry, too.
Conduct auditions and pay your cast well
Do not be lazy about your casting call and auditions. Treat it no differently from any other job posting. This means paying your actors well. Many of them are struggling actors looking for their big break and as such have low bargaining power and are often not paid fairly OR at all. Pay them a fair sum and they’ll do justice to the role.
Nick Erskine-Shaw is co-founder and vice president of strategic growth at 90 Seconds.