“Brands We Hate”

Because of Our Ethnicities or Origins”

By Arundati Dandapani

We hear and read about brands we love, and can even think of a few upfront. But what if we considered the brands we hated, because they were mean, bullying, or enraged us in ways very few understood? Because of our ethnicities, origins or more?

How easy is it to talk about those? The most hated brands in a commute aboard the metro revealed that Spam meat, Hummer cars and Versace ties topped a casual-conversation’s don’t-buy list.

Consumer racism could be experienced at an individual level, or large-scale. In the late nineties, Tommy Hilfiger was rumoured to have said he didn’t want to see minorities wearing his brand’s clothing. Dolce and Gabbana recently received a backlash following their ads denigrating a Chinese woman eating pizza with chopsticks while tuning into instructions from a male voice. Fashion brands have consistently stood out for being racist.

Are brands like people then, and what is the tipping point or transition for customers to stop engaging with brands that hurt their consumer sentiments with racist invective, gesture, action or intonation?

Late 2019, we launched a micro-survey to understand the negative experiences of ethnically diverse Canadians with brands, products or services. We sampled South Asians in Ontario and BC in a two-question-survey about their experience:

When was the last time a brand, product, or service treated you poorly because of your ethnicity or origin?

Did that experience make you stop (or consider stopping) using that brand, product, or service?

The micro-survey was fielded via the Logit Group’s EVA Express Ethnic Omnibus study.

Some Data Findings

For consumer racist interactions propagated by brands, “never” was the top answer (36%). However, the second most common answer was “recently in the past week to six months” (17%), followed by “a while ago,” i.e. six months to  three years ago (15%) and “a long time go” or  more than 3 years ago (13%) from the sample (n=500) of South Asian respondents with origins spanning Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Britain, France, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Of those who were treated poorly very recently or less than a week ago by brands, a quarter (25%) said they stopped using the brand, and 40% said they would consider stop using it. Combined, 65% of respondents who very recently experienced racism with brands reported a negative consequence towards a brand. These negative consequences were evenly split among males and females, as well as among the 18-29 and 30-49 age groups.

Of those who were treated poorly recently or between a week to six months ago by brands, half the respondents (50%) reported a negative consequence towards that brand, evenly split between those (25%) saying they stopped using the brand and those (25%) considering stopping use.

Of those who were treated poorly a while ago (between 6 months and 3 years ago), 38% said they stopped using the brand (evenly split across males and females) with a combined 62% reporting any negative consequence in action or intention towards the brand.

Of those who were treated poorly long ago or over three years ago by brands, 38% had stopped using those brands, evenly split across the provinces of BC and Ontario, and a combined 64% reported a negative consequence with the brand.

I don’t propose these findings were conclusive at all, but rather raised new questions and angles to consider, which is the purpose of all good research.

Insights for Further Study

  • The largest proportion reported never having faced racism with brands, products and services. Does this mean they really never faced such negative or heightened interpersonal experiences at customer touch points? Or was it that they could not assign negative emotions to inanimate things like brands? Pressingly, did they feel uncomfortable or embarrassed reporting such experiences or interactions?
  • Notable proportions of the population stopped or considered stopping using the brand, product or service that had treated them poorly. The more recent their negative experience, the higher their reported negative intent and action, but in all cases of poor treatment, there was a negative consequence reported by the majority (50% or over). Does this mean that racism could impact a brand’s bottom-line adversely? We live in times where acknowledging racism means understanding it is complex and potentially layered in other consumer structures and geopolitical dynamics as well.  
  • For creating harmonious brand consumer eco-systems, as brands we need to grow our vocabulary, know our values, grow our understanding of other cultures, and adapt to achieve the impact we want among the groups and individuals that matter most to us whether we own a niche or mass market brand.

Skype Panel Event

We further asked leaders from the Centre for Skills Development, Quill Inc., and Carleton University to weigh in on brand-hate and detail how it affects further engagement with brands and churn.

The questions asked of these diverse leaders were designed around their role in society, geared towards borrowing their analytical lens on racism, cross-cultural conflict and negative experiences and interactions with brands with a view to offering a better understanding of the brand-consumer relationship.

Brand Hate and Newcomers to Canada

Speaking with Emanuel Da Costa, Career Coach and Facilitator at the Centre for Skills Development uncovered challenges newcomers faced with adapting to or adopting brands in a new country. We touched on a range of issues in the brand-consumer discontent spectrum, with a view to skills development and newcomer integration. His advice for brands was to avoid apology communications but instead reinvest in and boost the communities or groups harmed in any negative interactions or experiences.

Brand Hate and Technological and Cultural Trends

The high point of speaking with Fatima Zaidi, CEO and Founder of Quill, was understanding her take on brand-hate from an entrepreneur’s point of view, in a world of influencer marketing. Leveraging the right tools, technology and incentives to track trends, currents, opinions and culture will put you ahead of the curve, whether your brand attracts one group or many. Hear about the brands that do and don’t resonate with her and why, and how to navigate a complex consumer landscape across many time zones:

Consumer Animosity” and Geopolitical Influences – Part 1 & Part 2

Dr. Jose Rojas Mendez, Consumer Scientist and Professor of International Business and Marketing at Carleton University came highly recommended by his colleague at the Sprott School of Business, Dr. Luciara Nardon, Director of CREWW and author of Working in a Multicultural Workplace. Our conversation spanned the identities and personalities of brands in the minds of their consumers with all the baggage of international trade and supply chain economics. Both parts of our chat were a moving anthropology of brand-consumer behaviour and interactions in Canada but also globally, uncovering themes that connect geopolitics, movements and consumer psychologies.

Share your thoughts about the issues discussed in your comments below. You can also request the data tables and report in your comments.

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