When Multicultural Marketing Goes Horribly Wrong

Ok, so at first I thought this had to be some kind of practical joke. Some kind of Onion-esque attempt at racial satire. But now, after learning that it’s apparently for real, even I’m amazed. And frankly, there isn’t much in the realm of racial insensitivity that shocks me anymore.

And so I give you, Hip-Hop Cupcakes: the creation of the marketing wizards at Duncan Hines. What makes them “Hip-Hop?” Why, the black frosting applied to the cupcakes of course, and especially the oversized pink lips that manage to produce Biz Markie-like beats and Boys II Men-like harmony. This is what happens when corporate efforts at multiculturalism — which were always about exploiting consumers and making money, rather than breaking down inequity and creating a just workplace — go terribly, unfathomably wrong.

I am trying to envision the marketing meeting where this idea was first floated. As much as I’ve tried, I cannot imagine that there could have been any people of color in that room. It is virtually inconceivable that even the most internally oppressed black person could think blackface desserts were a good idea. Even in a nation that made Aunt Jemima an icon, beat-boxing baked goods are on a whole ‘nother level.

So here’s the meeting, as I’m envisioning it.

Imagine the scene. Three white execs: two men and one woman, sitting around a table in the older white man’s office. Outside in the waiting room is the pitch man for the PR firm that was hired to come up with the latest ad campaign for Duncan Hines. The older white executive and the female executive have no idea what the pitch is going to be. They look worried. But the younger white male leans back in his chair with a confident, knowing smile. The meeting begins.

Older White Guy: “So, how are we gonna make homemade cupcakes cool? I mean, nowdays kids can buy gourmet cupcakes at all these fancy cupcake places that keep popping up. Their parents don’t want to take the time to make their own. What do we do?!”

Young White Guy: “Well, we may not be able to make homemade cupcakes cool. But we can make ‘em hip. As in, hip-hop!

With that, the door to the boardroom opens, and in comes a white, twenty-something male PR director. He is wearing dark glasses and a Kangol cap, along with several gold chains. The young Duncan Hines exec looks excited. His colleagues are considerably less enthused.

White Female: “What? What the hell is this? Hip-Hop cupcakes? What does hip-hop have to do with cupcakes? And why is he dressed like that?”

Just then, the pitch man pipes up:

PR pitch man: (speaking in what he apparently considers authentic black English): “C’mon shawty, why you gotta be a buster? I ain’t tryin’ to hear ‘dat. Just peep this, yo: the joint starts with some lame-ass yellow cupcakes. And then, this white lady with smoove hands starts pouring black frostin’ all up on they shit. And jus’ when folks are like, ‘what the fuck is this?’ some nice, full lips pop up on top, and some eyes too! And they start rockin’ some funky-fresh beats, while the white lady is all up on the phone with one of her homegirls from the muh’fuckin’ PTA!”

White Female: “Wait, wait, wait, isn’t this racist? And why are you talking like that? Is that how you think black people talk? And you think people are going to buy blackface cupcakes?! Is this what we paid you for?!”

PR Pitch Man: “Pshhhh, why you got to be that way shawty, nah mean? Shit, in my hood, ain’t nobody buyin’ no cupcakes, ya know wha’m sayin? I’m jus’ tryin’ to reach out and broaden yo’ demo — as in demographic — yo!”

White Female: “Excuse me, what? Your hood? Don’t you live on the Upper East Side? Didn’t you go to Andover? And then Columbia?”

PR Pitch Man: “Damn skippy! Columbia, up in Harlem-world, nah mean? Morningside Heights represent, biotch!”

White Female: “OK, that’s enough, get him out of here. This is offensive.”

Older White Guy: “Now, hold on just a minute. Maybe this isn’t such a bad idea. I mean, we do need to reach the urban market. And frankly, we don’t have any better ideas on the table right now.”

PR Pitch Man: That’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout, G-Money! You roll wit’ us, and we gonna have O.G.s slanging muh’fuckin’ cupcakes on the corner. Straight pimpin’ dem’ cakes, nah mean?”

Young White Guy: Yeah, yeah, I can see it now. We can do some cross-marketing with Diddy, ya know for some cupcake-flavored Ciroc!

PR Pitch Man: Aw, hell-to-the-yes! Now you feelin’ it. Diddy could be all up in the club, gettin’ his swerve on with some hottie, and jus’ when you think things are gonna get all freaky and shit, he’s like ‘try this!’ and he hands her the vodka, and then a moist dessert cake all in one move! That’s the shit!”

Older White Guy: “Yeah, and he could look at the camera and say: ‘P-Diddy Cakes. The P-stands for Puddin.’”

White Female: “Oh My God, you cannot be serious! This is awful!”

Young White Guy: (ignoring his female colleague): “Yeah, and then we could do like a whole product line. How about, Notorious P.I.E.?”

PR Pitch Man: “For realz…Or check this: Straight Outta’ Cobbler!”

White Female: (with her head in her hands, disgusted): “Uggghhhh…”

Young White Guy: “Or Mack-Daddy Macaroons!”

Older White Guy: “Or how about, ‘No Justice, No Cheesecake!”

White Female: (sarcastically): “Or how about we go all out and make ‘Black Power Brownies!’”

(All the men in the room stop laughing and smiling. They are silent as they stare at her.)

Older White Guy: “Now, Denise, let’s not get carried away. We can’t say ‘Black Power.’ It might upset white consumers.”

Young White Guy: “Yeah Denise, and if there’s one group we can’t afford to offend, it’s white people! You should know that. What were you thinking?”

PR Pitch Man: “Fo’ shizzle ‘Niecy. You need to check yo’self, ‘fore you wreck ‘yo’self!”

Older white guy: (lamely mimicking the PR pitch man): “True ‘dat homie, true dat!”

(The men erupt into laughter, while the PR man does a classic “raise the roof” motion above his head and the three men practice gang signs in the boardroom mirror. Denise exits the room, her head hung low.)

Young White Guy: “I smell a Clio in our future! Not to mention a multicultural marketing award!”

Older White Guy: “Whoop Whoop!”


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