How can brands be culturally inclusive without looking tokenistic?

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Consumers won’t stand for tokenistic action. They want to see genuine representations of diversity in ads.

It’s no secret that social conversations are bringing inclusivity to the forefront. And with brands following suit, how can they ensure they’re getting with the times in a meaningful way?

Don’t just jump on the bandwagon

Brands know that they need to be more culturally diverse. While some might be in it for the money, I, probably naively think that many don’t know where to start.

But contrary to popular belief, it takes a lot of planning to ensure you’re not just jumping on the bandwagon. It’s no longer enough to simply put out a press release for two weeks a year then ignore the conversation for the other 50. If you want to be culturally diverse, you need to thoroughly invest in the cause.

These days consumers are smarter than ever. They won’t be fooled by small tokenistic actions. It’s the age of social media, and any marketing campaign that isn’t bulletproof will get torn to pieces on Twitter. So don’t be surprised if you find the receipts of your transgressions on Twitter, dredged up for all the world to see. And even if there are no receipts, if you’re not invested 100%, you’ll be up against some harsh critics.

You don’t have to look far to see a brand that has tried and failed. Take a look at M&S. They launched their now-infamous LGBT sandwich for Pride, and despite the fact that they were giving a portion of the profits to charity, were crucified for pulling such a blatant marketing stunt.

But it isn’t all doom and gloom…

Brands that are doing it right

You have brands out there that absolutely nail their efforts to be socially and culturally inclusive. ASOS immediately springs to mind. For example, they most recently launched their ‘Modest’ range, featuring hijabs, abayas and burqas. But why was ASOS able to pull it off? Easy. For starters, ASOS routinely works with plus-size models, so they’ve long been known for being inclusive. And you don’t have to browse the ASOS website for long to find examples of diversity.

ASOS have also been advocates of both the LGBTQ and disabled communities, doing everything from raising money for GLAAD, to providing outfits for athletes at the PyeongChang Paralympic Games. They have strong policies about mental health and body positivity and actively work towards making their workflow more inclusive.

However, it’s not just plush marketing campaigns and strong PR bolstering. To truly become an advocate for cultural and social inclusivity, brands need to think about their entire business, and how they can be more culturally aware on every level.

For example, brands like Timberland and Napapijri are very vocal about their commitment to social causes like environmental sustainability and giving back to the communities around them.

As Timberland’s largest employee population is located in the Dominican Republic, they invest heavily in neighbouring countries like Haiti, to help provide sustainable work for the communities there.

It may not be glamorous, and it takes time to invest, but this is the kind of action that gives Timberland the chops to be able to talk heavily about sustainability and the environment, without it seeming like a cash grab.

What needs to change?

Brands need to wake up and realise that in the age of equality and AOC, consumers want to see real, tangible actions. What step is your company taking to employ those from disadvantaged backgrounds? Does your marketing collateral feature people that aren’t cisgender heterosexual white people? Is your supply chain exploiting people in other countries, or damaging their environment? These are the questions you need to ask yourself before you embark on a ‘culturally inclusive’ marketing campaign.

However, that being said, the simplest way to answer all of these questions is usually to hire a workforce that is more reflective of the world around us. If you want culturally inclusive marketing campaigns, then you need a cultural workforce to create it. Because, let’s face it, a room full of old white men aren’t going to know what’s ‘culturally diverse’ even if it slapped them in the face.

Billy Leonard is a content strategist at Croud

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