‘Marginalized groups see what most don’t – their fringe is their edge’
Amit Kekre, national strategy head at DDB Mudra Group, looks at how the marketing and advertising industries can use their power to address the needs of marginalized groups in society.
Scene 1: A bunch of well-educated, English-speaking marketing and advertising folks in a boardroom, over cups of Starbucks, discussing the merits and demerits of addressing marginalized communities in their markets. Scene 2: An advertising agency pitching an idea to a client about a campaign that involves a marginalized community.
Different scenarios, different textures, one thing in common – a general mood of hesitation, caution, reluctance.
‘Oh, but does it really make sense for us? ‘ ‘But there are hardly any of these people in our organization!’ ‘Oh, this is too small an audience for our brand to target!’
Most organizations deem most marginalized communities as not relevant. The most common reason? Their marginal, insignificant numbers.
This is tragic. One of the biggest challenges for the industry is to continuously devise solutions that are not cookie cutter. Yet, the industry is stuck in its comfortable little idea of what a best-performing creative problem-solving team is likely to look like. We shudder to think that the composition of this team could be a group of differently abled people, or people from the transgender community, or a bunch of septuagenarians for that matter! Any deviation from the well-educated, hetero normative, native English-speaking stereotype as the team that cracks ideas, leads organizations is difficult for us to imagine.
The reality is quite the opposite. In a world that is reeling from sameness, where disruptive ideas are the name of the game, by embracing difference, organizations are far better equipped to alter the painfully uniform and templated pattern of ideas.
And the one virtue people from marginalized groups have abundantly on offer is difference. They see what most don’t, their fringe is their edge.
If not as part of an organization’s workforce, even as audiences a brand can target for marketing, most brand managers dismiss campaigns that address marginalized communities. What they don’t realize is that even if these communities aren’t a sizable consumption target, by raising their cause they not only stand to do something good, but more importantly get a chance to influence culture.
Time stands testimony to the fact that ideas that move culture ahead, move the brands and business and that shape those ideas. When Skittles loses its rainbow colors for the cause of the LGBTQ+ community, it not just shows solidarity for the cause and wins hearts of the queer community, it also wins the hearts of millions, regardless of their sexual orientation. An idea like #FreethePeriod that Stayfree propagates makes real and tangible difference to the lives of sex workers in India, at the same time it garners incredible brand love.
The real case for brands to embrace marginalized communities is to use their power to shape and change culture. The real case for people on the margins, especially in a world that is getting frighteningly familiar, is their ability to offer a distinctive, differentiated edge to solutions and ideas.
Bill Bernbach said: “In advertising, not to be different is virtually suicidal.” Couldn’t be truer when it comes to marketing industry at large.
If unexpectedness and differentiation is the name of the game, then let’s remember that unexpected solutions start with the unlikeliest of people attacking it. The more courage we show in bringing people, perspectives and points of view from the margins in the middle of us, the further the brands and business that demonstrate that courage will grow.
The more we realize that bringing marginalized groups into the mainstream is not about the size of these groups, not about their ‘volume’, but is about the value they bring, the better we will become as marketers, creators, humans.
Amit Kekre is national strategy head at DDB Mudra Group, India