Monday, July 07, 2014

Not so sweet: hashtag marketing gone awry

Much press -- both mainstream (NY Times) and critics (The Audacity of No Chill: Kara Walker in the Instagram Capital) -- has arisen over Kara Walker's "A Subtlety or the Marvelous Sugarbaby - an homage to the underpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our sweet tastes from the cane fields to the kitchens of the New World on the occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant." - an art installation in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. While art is always a subject and space of contestation and interpretation, the highly charged Sugarbaby exhibit points clearly and unambiguously toward racism, slavery, plantation work and American consumption/complicity.

In an age of digital marketing, social media, mobile and location based services, hashtags and shares become sites where digital marketers can see their messages twisted in unintentional ways. In the case of Kara Walker, images of non-black audiences posing in arguably offensive Instagram photos have maligned not only the artist's intended message, but also highlights how sadly uninformed audiences can be in the face of an educational piece of art.

Digital marketing involves extensive research and efforts in promoting a client's product - in this case art (see Digital Sugar Baby or #KaraWalkerDomino). Hashtags can be ways to assist in spreading and trending one's efforts on Twitter and Instagram. But when hashtags are hijacked (often for political or customer dissatisfaction reasons) - or in this case by uniformed audience members (seemingly and) unwittingly perpetuating racism - how can digital marketers and social media professionals control the message or ensure effectiveness?

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