Cultural Appropriations Put Brand in Social Media Hot Seat

Cultural Appropriations Put Brand in Social Media Hot Seat

As news travels faster online and through social media, it is becoming more important than ever for brands to monitor online channels on a consistent basis. Brands that don’t do so are at risk of missing trends – both opportune and worrisome.

In case you missed it, TIKI® brand has been getting plenty of attention lately, and not for reasons the brand would have liked.

TIKI, a brand that is a cultural appropriation of the Maori language and Polynesian aesthetic style, is itself being referenced by a group occupying a completely opposing worldview.

In the aftermath of the events in Charlottesville last month, the internet was buzzing with images of white nationalist protestors marching with TIKI torches. In August alone, “tiki torches” were mentioned in over one million conversations in online news outlets, blogs and social media posts. To put it in perspective, that is over 200 times the number of conversations the torches were mentioned in during the month of July.



Last month, media and social media users brought attention to the use of the torches, and many mocked the protestors for using a product associated with Polynesian culture and backyard barbecues. Many communicators agreed that the brand’s swift response to the attention and quick move to disassociate itself from the protestors was spot on.


The number of references to TIKI torches in online conversations has died down by now, but they haven’t quite disappeared yet. On September 18, for example, the brand was still mentioned online nearly 900 times (compared to just over 100 times per day a month ago), and most of those references were related to Charlottesville.


However, we’ve noted a shift in the overall tone of these conversations, in which the torches have evolved as a symbol of mockery to a label for a certain group of people. More recent posts have referred to the white nationalist protestors (and sometimes broader associated groups) as “those tiki torch people.” Online users engaging in contentious political arguments ask other users they disagree with to “go grab their tiki torches.” The tone is less joking and more derisive, and more pointedly used as a descriptor for this group.


It remains to be seen whether or not TIKI Brand will continue to be associated with Charlottesville and white nationalism in the coming months. Though the brand’s initial response received praise from communicators and followers alike, the brand will have to continue to monitor the evolution of conversations to understand the real damage done and to determine the best strategy for managing communications going forward.

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Emily Bunce is Director of Insights and has a specialty in finding the hidden nuggets, connections and trends that inspire creative, on-target strategy. In her role advising account teams as Director of Insights, Emily conducts and analyzes secondary, primary and social research to help clients align communications strategies with business strategies. She is experienced in analyzing trends, identifying growth opportunities, developing actionable insights to craft campaigns and measuring impact on key stakeholders. Prior to G&S, Emily worked in consumer insights at Macy’s, analyzing customer behavior and identifying new product and marketing opportunities. She also spent several years as a market researcher for ORC International, studying consumer trends and conducting research projects. Emily earned her M.B.A. from Temple University and École Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées (Paris) and holds a B.S. in Marketing and a B.A. in History from the University of Delaware. She is also certified as a Net Promoter Score® Associate. A travel and outdoor enthusiast, Emily has hiked along the Great Wall of China and climbed to the top of Mt. Fuji in Japan.


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