Beware religious holidays you don’t understand
It seems every year some grocery store chain or restaurant chain makes a horrible gaffe or two:
- Someone will send out flyers promoting a special sale on hams for Passover or Eid. Just know that while Jews and Muslims might or might not eat pork, both religions officially forbid consumption of pork, shellfish and various other foods. So associating a forbidden food with a religious holiday isn’t kosher, even for those who don’t follow the prohibition.
- Mormons have a complicated history on the topic, but most do not drink caffeinated beverages such as colas, coffee or tea. Alcohol and tobacco are also a no-no.
- Muslims also ban alcohol but otherwise follow restrictions similar to Jews – Hallal and Kosher rules are fairly similar but with different rituals.
- Many Buddhists are vegetarian.
- Hindus do not eat beef. So when they found out that McDonald’s had been spraying beef broth onto their French fries, this caused a great deal of upset to people who thought they were eating a vegetarian item.
- Some, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, don’t celebrate Halloween.
- Even if your customers are mostly Latinos, please know that Latinos are not all Catholic. Many are evangelicals, Mormons, or other religions. So you can’t make any assumptions.
If you inadvertently promote a religious holiday in an insensitive way, you might actually alienate your customers. And it might appear that you are endorsing one religion or sect over another (such as celebrating a Shiite holiday that might upset some Sunni Muslims.
So yes, you can celebrate Christmas, but just to be inclusive it might be safer to also celebrate Hannukah and Kwanza at the same time. And since Ramadan/Eid follow and the Jewish holidays follow a different calendar, they don’t automatically match the Christian counterparts.
Get the tone right
All too often one sees holiday-themed ads that just seem awkward. You don’t want to appear to be exploiting someone’s nationality or religion. You don’t want to be offensive in any way, and no one spends their precious communications budgets with the intent to drive customers away.
So how do you check if your idea is appropriate or offensive?
If you have the budget to hire research professionals to test these ideas in a rigorous way, great, do that. But if you don’t, and most small businesses don’t, you have to be clever, resourceful and attentive.
Ask your customers. Ask experts, friends and colleagues. Watch out for what your competitors or businesses in other categories are doing. Go online and do your research. You can find virtually everything online, so use it.
But beware relying only on a small sub-set of people as your sounding board.
Long ago we saw a huge billboard in San Diego promoting “Huevos, el mejor amigo del cocinero.” Oops. This roughly translates as “Testicles, a chef’s best friends.”
When we contacted the person responsible for this billboard (the Egg Board), he assured us that he had shown this to many Latinas at his mother’s church. Of course, church ladies might not have been willing to tell him that in Latin America the formal word for egg is also the colloquial word for testicles. But everyone knew.
So as you approach your marketing and merchandising calendar, do your research, look for new opportunities, keep your eyes and ears open and don’t take anything for granted. The business you save may be your own.