Cultural appropriation in food businesses and media is not a new topic. There’s been many a discussion surrounding who gets to sell what kind of food and confusion on what’s appropriation and what’s not. I’m not going to get into the details here. If you need articles to read, there’s a great list here.

What I want to touch on is the responsibility we (as marketers) hold to the words and imagery we use in relation to our products and services. Communication — both written and visual — is such an important part of marketing.

The photos and words that you choose to accompany your brand, your drinks, and your products are under your control. Don’t let this power go to waste.

Some things to consider as you post:

  • Is the photo of a coffee production worker the best one to accompany text about a sale you’re running on their coffee? This could be considered a devaluation of their work. (Someone on my Twitter timeline pointed this one out)
  • Is the geisha (the person) the best representation of your geisha coffee? NO. There isn’t an argument here, as the two are completely unrelated.
  • Are you picking and choosing culturally significant items to exoticize your product from that country without understanding why they’re significant (and therefore not using them in any appropriate manner)?
  • Did you receive consent from the photo subject to use their imagery in your marketing? Was it coerced or given freely? Evan gave great tips in this blog post about consent in photography.

We have a responsibility in marketing to be conscious of how we represent cultures and people that we work with. This is especially true for coffee companies, roasters, and importers. It comes down to respect and consent. Are they your producers or your partners? This slight change makes the wording go from an implied ownership to more of an equal relationship.

Some thoughts to reflect on as you write your marketing words and post your images.

A version of this post originally appeared in my Coffee Marketing newsletter on July 25, 2018.