Inclusion is for life, not just for hashtags
Advertising works best when it focuses on experiences that audiences can relate to regardless of their age, race, gender, disability and so on.
Too much generalization of the audience experience can sink a campaign before it is even launched, especially in our increasingly oversaturated advertising world. That’s where inclusive marketing comes in.
In 2020, social movements such as Black Lives Matter gained significant momentum in response to violent and racially-motivated incidents – the most prominent being the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in the US. This triggered international outrage and calls to action, a pressure felt not only by politicians and the media but especially by brands, marketing agencies and similar entities that pride themselves on ‘knowing their audience.’
DRPG on the importance of continuing to prioritize diversity and the value in recognizing marginalized audiences
A year has passed since then, and while there have been some positive developments, there is still much room for improvement. Advertising agencies have, by and large, made efforts to become more inclusive and increase diversity not only in the talent on-screen, but also in the staff behind the scenes.
The Shutterstock 2021 Diversity Report demonstrates that in the UK, 63% of marketers believe that gender equality is a key consideration in campaigns. When it comes to representations of sexuality featuring same-sex couples or non-traditional families, only 16% of marketers consider this important. A total of 17% of marketers believe that the Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate movements affected content decisions, 61% think that more representation of disabilities is needed and 17% have used more content featuring models over 50 in the past year.
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Labels such as ‘minorities’ and ‘BAME’ also play a role in how members of marginalized groups feel included or not. There is no uniform reaction to these because there is no homogeneous group of people with specific characteristics. People are far more complex than that. As a child of Nigerian immigrants and one of the authors of this article, Amaka lives with fluid labels, meaning that she is referred to as ‘Black’ with all its connotations – good, bad or annoying – in Europe or the US, and as ‘white’ or ‘oyinbo’ with the corresponding connotations when she visits Nigeria. Do these terms really say anything about how she perceives herself? We don’t think so. They say more about the people using them and the society they were shaped by.
This leads back to the heart of our discussion. It is not about creating a perceived form of diversity, but including all people, which will in turn inform the products, messages and images used in adverts worldwide.
A positive example of inclusivity can be illustrated with Microsoft’s ‘We All Win’ campaign in 2018 that saw the launch of the Xbox Adaptive Controller. This included touchpads instead of buttons, as well as bright colors. The campaign was fronted by a group of children, some with disabilities and some without. To most of the audience the product was an evolution of the controllers all gamers use. To those with physical disabilities, like the other author of this article, Emily, such an inclusive product design and representation of limited mobility may surprise. Xbox had managed to level the playing field. Individuals living with disabilities were finally able to access more of Xbox’s offering and be directly targeted for something they are capable of rather than lacking. Xbox’s marketing was so successful that a TV advertisement from the campaign made it to the coveted Super Bowl half-time slot in the US and Microsoft won a huge share of the purple pound.
Since then, we’ve seen the rise of the body positivity movement. Savage x Fenty, Rihanna’s makeup and lingerie brand, is a great example, showcasing models of different ethnic backgrounds, body types and genders to strategically recognize that audiences deemed ‘female’ aren’t always the willowy, white women traditionally used in retail marketing.
Based on real-life audience insight, inclusive marketing is all about challenging both brand and audience assumptions. It insists that brands target individuals from all walks of life, with different backgrounds and stories, by seeking the commonalities outside labels or stereotypes. Ultimately, it brings marginalized audiences back into the fold, recognizing their value in society.
This article will continue in a second part, due out Thursday this week.
Emily Saunders-Madden, senior research and insight executive at DRPG, with editorial input from Amaka Iyizoba.
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