Months after #OscarsSoWhite, a Reflection on Marketing #Diversity

April 18, 2016

Multicultural marketing is not a buzzword anymore. With each passing year more brands are realizing that the future of marketing lies in inclusiveness and a wide representation that different audiences can identify with. Culturally inclusive advertising is a responsibility we have, to better represent our reality in mass media. Sometimes the execution can be a hit or miss, but it does show an evolution in changing perceptions.

A vast amount of articles on diversity marketing point out that it is important to show several groups of people interacting with your brand so that you’re not subtly sending a message that the product isn’t for those not represented, and thus potentially losing major earnings.

Even when you’re not selling a product, as was the case of UNICEF’S child brides awareness campaign, there is a certain pressure to show the groups of people you want identifying with your message. First, UNICEF used videos that portrayed the girls most affected by the issue, obtaining low engagement, reactions, and involvement. Then, they changed their strategy. They used girls who looked like the Western audience they were trying to reach, hoping that those watching it would identify and join in the fight against child brides. This approach worked much better, although they received criticism for their choice. Their response: Does it really matter who is in the video, if it results in the girls who need the help actually receiving it?

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And, for the past few years, we have seen a shift, where multicultural marketing specialists are becoming a thing of the past as more and more companies adopt it as part of their general marketing. This is good because it means multicultural marketing is becoming an integral part of strategies. Now we see multiracial families eating cheerios  and gay couples feeding their son Campbell’s soup.

But, it is also true that the current trend, which has been a part of advertising for the past decade or so, can also result in exclusion. To appeal to certain markets, advertising uses the people who most resemble their desired demographic. Studies have proved that if you can’t see yourself reflected in an ad, then you are more likely to assume the product isn’t for you. However, this has restricted exposure. Thanks to all the detail data we now collect and analyze, marketing is so targeted that groups of people are mostly shown a likeness of themselves, which isn’t necessarily an accurate representation of the reality we live in.


Did we get everyone here?

When coming up with a campaign or an ad,  we don’t necessarily need to look like the United Colors of Benetton. The most important aspect of a diverse marketing strategy is understanding cultural insight. This is why there’s the need for a diverse team in an agency who can make use of their cultural knowledge and sensitivities to cast inclusive portrayals, without stepping into the dangerous waters of cultural appropriation or offending anyone by mistake.

Although sending a message of inclusion is definitely a step in the right direction, we’ve reached a point where we need to start thinking about our advertising as not just appealing to different groups in order to make a bigger profit, but as a tool to start changing misconceptions and stereotypes. Starting with the ones advertising and the media has done themselves.

The challenge so well put by Jason Chambers, author of “Madison Avenue and the Color Line” is that “there is a natural hesitancy to speak to where [consumers] are rather than lead them where they should go, because what if they say, ‘no’?”