Inclusion has to go beyond a brand’s social media profile
Gender, ageism, disability and sexuality were the subject of numerous advertising campaigns in the past year. Unfortunately, not every inclusive campaign is consistent with a brand’s image or legacy. Audiences are more conscious of marketing methods than ever before. As such they are aligning themselves with brands they believe in, whose values and mission reflect their own. This means brands that target a niche audience once, without follow up, or wider strategic inclusion across internal and external audiences, often fall victim to the labels of tokenism or virtue signalling, thereby losing their audience.
Take Nike’s ‘The Toughest Athletes’ advert. Do people stop being athletes, motivated by their sport, driven by a need to keep fit and healthy, when they become pregnant? No. For most, health becomes even more important during and after that phase of life. This campaign recognised maternity as a broad aspect of health and wellbeing experienced by over two billion people on the planet. Our industry hailed it as a success. However, many female athletes have taken offence at the campaign, citing hypocrisy after years of sexism and poor practice in Nike’s past sponsorship of female runners.
It becomes clear that diversity and inclusion are tightly bound to an individual's or group's ability to adopt a new perspective on different issues, which may be very different from their own. The advertising industry is in a unique position to shape public perceptions and stereotypes. Although it has traditionally presented a distorted picture of the societies it represents in many countries, the opportunity to change this is a rare one that should be seized at the grassroots and executive levels. To reflect the reality of our consumers, we marketers need to see ourselves as part of the wider audience, as another consumer. Employing a diverse workforce means that agencies can draw on experiences and perspectives in-house.
Commercial benefits to connection
More than that, it’s the commonalities beyond stereotypes and labels that make us human and connected. A child with a disability can relate to a child without a disability in terms of video games because the common, human factor is not a physical characteristic they share. When a child with a disability is forced to look first at their disability rather than their desire to buy the product (their reasons being unrelated to their disability), they may feel disillusioned and even excluded. In this case, the advertiser misses the opportunity for a possible sale. This illustrates how strategic and representative advertising translates to sound business decisions.
Talking about this issue as if it is a problem that only affects underrepresented groups does a grave disservice to society and means a significant loss of profit for the industry. At the heart of the problem is ignorance – ignorance of history and the way our societies were built as well as who really is uninformed. A certain amount of humility and a willingness to listen to others, such as your co-workers or people from other walks of life who may not have the same background, will go a long way towards better understanding and constructive communication.
Given this context, it comes as no surprise that marginalised groups collectively form a majority. We all age, over 80% of the world's population is non-white, 49% of the world identify as female, 1% are estimated to be non-binary, 15% live with a form of lifelong disability, and according to the Office of National Statistics, the LGBT+ community in the UK has grown by over 15% in the last year alone.
Ultimately, your audiences, whether they know it or not, are a spectrum community looking for a solution. That solution has a value informed by your audience’s culture. Insight into audience culture, backgrounds, behaviours and sensitivities are the foundations on which a successful campaign is built. Done well, inclusive marketing has the power to make that value ground-breaking for marginalised individuals.
A single campaign is able to make an underrepresented audience feel included. Take every opportunity to consistently do this and you’ll foster an inclusive brand culture. An inclusive brand culture ensures marginalised audiences become invested in your brand. After all, marginalised audiences, when grouped together, outnumber your fictional ideal customer every time.
Amaka Iyizoba, senior editor at DRPG with editorial input from Emily Saunders-Madden, senior research and insight executive.
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