Inclusive marketing is not new, but more brands are conscious of its need and impact. Salesforce defines Inclusive Marketing as “creating content that truly reflects the diverse communities that our companies serve. It means that we are elevating diverse voices and role models, decreasing cultural bias, and leading positive social change through thoughtful and respectful content”.
This is long overdue. Growing up, practically every African American man in an ad had a slang inspired one-liner like “Wassaup” in the Budweiser commercial; only white men bought luxury items, and women were the only ones who went grocery shopping.
Let’s get straight to the point, the United States is one of the most culturally, religiously, and racially diverse countries in the world, but our advertising reflects a homogenous society that literally could be copied and pasted from episodes of ‘Mad Men’. There are a few reasons why inclusive marketing took so long to catch on.
Corporate Environment: Lack of diversity of decision-makers working in advertising, public relations, and related sectors was evident in the content they created. Many brands and agencies are working to improve this such as Verizon and its AdFellows program; they are probably one of the biggest inclusion advocates.
Fear: Brands select spokespeople who they believe will appeal to the largest target audience. I think this has more to do with fear of alienating the masses. Coca-Cola selected Kendall Jenner for an ad titled “Jump In”, which borrowed images from the Black Lives Matter movement. They pulled the ad and apologized for missing the “mark”.
Tradition + Limited Resources: Heavy reliance on traditional market research to identify a target market combined with limited resources (people resources, funding, time) to target multiple groups. One company that has been successful in marketing to different groups in the past is Geico. They use a gecko to target the younger demographic and a caveman to target the older demographic.
Companies have made a lot of progress since my childhood and the three reasons above are just a few key ways for brands to have thoughtful, inclusive marketing campaigns. A perfect example of this is Subaru’s campaign in the ’90s. They identified five core groups who were responsible for half of their car sales with the most surprising group being lesbians. Unlike Coca-Cola in the example above, they did two things:
Spoke the target audience language (e.g. using tag lines ‘it is no choice’, ‘It’s the way we’re built’ or ‘Get out and stay out.”).
Selected an appropriate spokesperson, Martina Navratilova, to share their message.
Here are a few more recent campaigns that executed excellent inclusive marketing strategies.
Facebook’s ad depicted groups of people singing the Black national anthem, ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’, to promote Facebook groups during Black History Month.
Thinx is a startup that makes period-proof underwear whose ads depict a world where men get their period. This empathetic ad communicated to both genders.
P&G’s ‘The Look’ ad tells a story about bias in America that highlights a type of discrimination experienced by many black men. The ad is based on real-world experiences from thousands of black men who experience bias in different ways throughout their day.
While many brands are working on making their advertising more inclusive, some of these brands fall short by using lazy tactics such as adding a hip-hop song in the background or placing ethnically ambiguous actors in every commercial. When done right, a well-planned campaign can be good for business leading to loyal customers and increased sales as was the case for Subaru. There is much more that can be done, and in some countries, organizations are taking a heavy hand. For example, in 2019 Britain’s Advertising Standards Authority announced a ban to eliminate gender stereotypes in advertising. Volkswagen and Mondelez ads in the UK have already been banned for perpetuating stereotypes. To that end, I would like to thank the industry for investing in inclusion (not just diversity) and taking more chances. With all that said, how do you think brands beyond the ones mentioned can be more inclusive? And do you think that we should create regulations like Britain to ban select stereotypes? Links to some ads mentioned: The GOOD Facebook “Lift Every Voice And Sing”, https://www.ispot.tv/ad/ZxjB/facebook-groups-black-history-month-lift-every-voice P&G “The Look” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aC7lbdD1hq0 Thinx “MENstration”, https://youtu.be/-QEDZkj_Riw Subaru LGBT Marketing in the 1990s, https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/06/how-subarus-came-to-be-seen-as-cars-for-lesbians/488042/ The BAD Coca-Cola “Kendall Jenner”, https://youtu.be/_4CCkUVXHBQ The UGLY Budweiser “Wassup”, https://youtu.be/W16qzZ7J5YQ