By Jessica Bevilacqua and Elizabeth Del Giudice
Modern consumers expect diversity in advertising, and they’re putting their money behind brands that deliver on this tenet. Over the past few years we’ve witnessed consumers become increasingly vocal about the need for better representation in marketing communications. The once aspirational images featuring wealth, privilege and a narrow definition of beauty are no longer resonating with shoppers. Instead, they are gravitating towards brands that authentically reflect the real world around them.
Having grown up in a time of incredible social change, Millennials are especially supportive of brands that show respect for individuals across different backgrounds, including race, gender, sexuality, ability, family structures and income levels. With these consumers slated to become the largest living adult generation in the U.S. as early as this year, brands can’t afford to ignore their demands1.
Inclusivity as brand differentiator
From a business standpoint, brands have been able to differentiate themselves from competitors on the basis of inclusivity, setting themselves apart by consciously making themselves more accessible to a wider range of consumers.
This move towards inclusivity is particularly evident within the fashion and beauty industries.
Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty makeup line is a prime example of the benefits of inclusion. With diversity at the heart of its product launch, its 40 foundations covered the spectrum from the fairest of skin tones to the deepest shades, ensuring all skin types could find a match.
Fenty Beauty’s focus on diversity within both product development and marketing communications has paid off in spades, resulting in it earning an estimated $72 million within its first month of sales2. The brand’s social media success, measured in earned media, also out performed its major competitors over the same time period.
On the flip side, fashion brands that once built their base through promoting unrealistic beauty standards and exclusive lifestyles are now struggling to achieve relevance and are being labelled tone deaf and out of touch. Take lingerie darling Victoria Secret. Its unrealistic standard of beauty, coupled with its over-the-top luxurious fashion shows, have left consumers feeling cold in recent years. To make matters worse, Victoria Secret’s chief marketing officer (CMO) recently stirred up controversy by mocking the idea of having trans women and plus-size models walk its runway. The backlash was immediate with consumers and competitive brands taking to social media to express their disapproval and protestors demonstrating outside of retail stores. This stubborn refusal to acknowledge consumers’ changing values has resulted in declining sales and loss of market share3.
This consumer mindset is spilling over into various industries, from large tech to grocery to automotive, creating a need for brands across all sectors to develop content that recognizes individuals across a diverse set of backgrounds. Inclusivity is no longer a “nice to have.” Instead, it should be considered an essential part of marketing content if brands want to continue resonating with their audience.
With this in mind, we highlight concrete ways to incorporate diversity into a brand’s marketing campaign. It begins through fostering a culture of inclusivity within the workplace and building diverse teams. Hiring individuals from various backgrounds will allow businesses to draw on various perspectives, potentially uncovering new business opportunities in the process.
Within marketing content, brands should seek to address inclusivity in an authentic and respectful manner, avoiding stereotypes at all costs. Gimmicky campaigns can quickly teeter into insensitive territory if consumers believe brands are exploiting already marginalized individuals.
Importantly, brands should take a hard look at where they currently stand with respect to diversity. Once a business has taken stock, it can incorporate realistic benchmarks to measure its progress towards achieving greater inclusivity. This could mean hiring more diverse talent, featuring more models and spokespeople who come from a variety of backgrounds or creating products that cater to a broader consumer base.
Lastly, brands should foster open dialogues with consumers and encourage constant feedback. Flexibility, and open-mindedness is key to staying relevant within this quickly changing environment. Two-way communication means that businesses should also take the opportunity to publicly celebrate the ways they have moved the needle towards creating a more inclusive brand.
Inclusivity benefits both consumers and the brands that embrace it. A wide range of consumers can feel a stronger connection with brands and their products, while brands can forge connections with a larger, more varied consumer base and grow their bottom line. The key to success is staying true to the brand and avoiding disingenuous programmes that simply come off as publicity stunts. When inclusivity is incorporated with sincere intentions, brands have the potential to inspire social change through their marketing messages, encouraging representation and respect for people across all backgrounds.
Jessica Bevilacqua is sales and marketing coordinator at St. Joseph Communications (SJC) (www.stjoseph.com). Jessica supports the company’s sales team as well as assisting with digital marketing campaigns for external clients. Elizabeth Del Giudice is a digital marketing professional, ranging from public relations to social media. She also focuses on the creation of SJC content.
1 Richard Fry, “Millennials projected to overtake Baby Boomers as America’s largest generation”, Pew Research Center, March 1, 2018.
2 Yasmine Gray, “5 Reasons Why Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty Was Named One of TIME’s Best Inventions of 2017”, Billboard, November 22, 2017.
3 Rebecca Jennings, “The stubborn irrelevance of the Victoria’s Secret fashion show”, Vox, December 3, 2018.