• Mina Tezcan, Director |
5 min read

Earlier this week, whilst I was out, I overhead a couple of people exchanging their amusement on 'Belonging' being a trendy concept. From their wider conversation it appeared they worked in advertising. While I listened to the white, middle-aged men joking about a concept that resonates deeply with me, I wondered if they felt as alienated by this concept as I do by most of the advertising I see.

Underrepresentation, systemic discrimination and stereotypes are sadly a well-documented reality in marketing and advertising. Companies and brands fail drastically to reflect the societies they are meant to persuade. According to the Gina Davies Institute, male characters outnumber female characters in advertising spots two-to-one and male characters have twice the screen and speaking time as female characters. In adverts, men are shown working twice as often as women. Additionally, white men are more likely to be portrayed as leaders in roles of authority than women or black people. Unsurprisingly, women are also overly sexualised and are shown four times more often in revealing clothing than men (10.8 percent compared with 2.2 percent) (Gina Davies Institute Analysis of 2019 Cannes Lions Work Bias & Inclusion in advertising, 2019).

The female economy

However, the paradigm is shifting, an increasing number of brands are emerging whose values and advertising strategies more accurately reflect the reality of the world we live in and strive for equality. Inclusive marketing goes beyond good intentions, it’s a tool for savvy Chief Marketing Officers to make their marketing budgets work harder and increase return on investment.

Female consumer spending in 2020 was $24 trillion – as a market, women represent an opportunity greater than China and India combined. By 2030 there will be over 100 million more women in the global workforce with the majority in the Asia-Pacific region (Global Mega Trends to 2030, Frost & Sullivan, 2019) .The female economy is a powerful driver of the world economy. But despite the clear evidence, most brands and businesses haven’t realised the opportunity they are missing out on and continue to underserve female consumers.

Inclusive ads affect consumer behaviours

People want to feel that brands truly understand them and that’s why inclusion and belonging are increasingly important to impactful marketing and advertising strategies”. Adverts that reflect the target consumer are more effective in influencing consumer behaviour. For example, 69 percent of black consumers are more likely to be persuaded to buy a product or service from a brand whose communication strategy positively reflects their ethnicity (Google/Ipsos, U.S., Inclusive Marketing Study, 2019)..

Inclusive campaign messaging isn’t new. Coca-Cola’s iconic ‘Hilltop’ advert was one of the first to embrace people in the real world and truly mirror its consumers. The advert was produced in 1971 only two years after the assassination of Dr. King and the jingle ‘I’d like to buy the world a Coke’ was optimistic and, of course, refreshing.

A newer addition to the list of brands with a radical approach to inclusivity is Rhianna’s Fenty Beauty which truly lives up to its slogan ‘Beauty for All’. The brand not only markets foundation in 50 shades but specifically targets women across all cultures (137 countries!) and social backgrounds. By using mainly social rather than traditional media outlets for its marketing campaigns, the brand reaches an audience that was previously ignored. One of the first posts on the Fenty Instagram account was of a woman wearing not only Fenty make-up but also a Hijab.

Become the market you seek

Inclusive marketing isn’t a tick-box exercise. Images of white people can’t be just switched with those of ethnic minorities, colouring packaging to pink won’t attract more female buyers and rainbow flags pinned to a glossy campaign message won’t make them inclusive. There are multiple facets and layers to an inclusive marketing strategy that go beyond a one-off exercise. So, what actions should brands take?

One: Know Your Client

A truly effective inclusive campaign starts with understanding the customer profile and the marketplace. Clients want to do business with companies that understand their unique economic, political and cultural perspectives. Brands need to equip themselves with cultural intelligence to understand what is appropriate or will offend. What are their customers experiencing? What is culturally and emotionally meaningful to them?

The advice to business leaders is to get to know your client at a deep level and immerse yourself in your customers’ lives. Without this knowledge, you will not be able to appreciate the nuances of the culture or adapt your messages in a manner that is relevant.

Two: Hire a diverse team

Adverts are stories of the human experience. The wider the cultural gap between a brand and the audience, the more difficult it is to walk in the customers’ shoes. Can a man sell menstruation products? Of course. Will the brand do a better job if a woman is on the team who experienced a menstruation cycle? Take a guess!

To speak to a market that includes people from various backgrounds, you need the same diversity on your team. People who reflect the same cultural values through their unique backgrounds, perspectives and voices. Teams who have inter-culturally competent people around the table, with the power to influence decisions, will be able to tell authentic stories and design products and marketing messages without falling into biases.

Three: Make inclusion everyone’s business

Everybody wants to be spoken to in a meaningful way and with messages that are relevant on an emotional level. In that sense inclusive marketing is not only targeted at a certain ethnic group, gender or social class, it matters to all customers. Only if everyone who is involved in the campaign, from product development thought to the graphic designer, has a clear understanding what inclusion means for their brand, will it be successful. Inclusive campaigns are not a destination but an ongoing process where everyone feels responsible for the successful outcome. Through continual self-assessment, people can challenge their personal biases.

The bottom-line

As our global community progresses and strives for greater equality, more social groups who were previously not seen as mainstream consumers are becoming financially empowered. Brands who want to be successful in the future and achieve this in an inclusive way should shift their marketing together with the consumer spending power. The bottom-line message to all business leaders: educate yourself, diversify your talent pool, make inclusion everyone’s business and become the market you seek.

If you’d like to discuss any of the points raised in more detail, please don’t hesitate to contact me.