Have you ever had trouble relating to ads, TV, or other media because it told stories of people with lives that were vastly different from your own? If so, you're not alone.
Growing up in a small town with partial blindness, the only people I could relate to were characters on TV or in ads. These characters, which included Mr. Magoo, often fit into a specific mold that many people would consider offensive today. They were usually elderly, clumsy, and regularly put themselves into danger by walking into certain situations.
It wasn't until recently, when I was watching an NBC show called This Is Us, that I found a character that I could relate to. The current season follows a blind character over the course of his life -- from birth to adulthood. Although he faces challenges as a blind man, he grows up to be an independent musician living in a city.
While I enjoy having a TV character that I can relate to, what I admire most about the show is that it actually cast a blind actor for the role. This has been fairly unseen in the blind community. In fact, This Is Us is one of the first in history to cast a legally blind actor in a leading network series role.
The results? Notable advocates and organizations, such as the Carroll Center for the Blind, began discussing and celebrating the casting on social media channels.
If I wasn't already hooked on This Is Us, I would've probably started watching when the character was introduced.
As a marketing blogger, the reception of this show made me wonder, "if simply identifying with a unique character on a TV show gets people to tune in each week, what could inclusivity could do for a brand?"
Inclusivity can help brands connect on a deeper, more meaningful level with their audiences -- which can be a major asset to marketing campaigns in 2019 and beyond.
Diversity by the Numbers
In the United States alone, racial and ethnic minorities make up nearly 40% of the population. And this number is likely to grow as 51% of children under 15 were considered part of a minority in 2019.
But the country's diverse population doesn't just include people of different races or ethnicities. Roughly 4.5% of U.S. adults identify as LGBTQ, and more than 40 million Americans have a disability.
Odds are, some or many people within your audience have something unique about them that makes them different, whether it be related to race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, or physical abilities.
In 2019, inclusive marketing is a no brainer because it reflects the actual world we live in, rather than a fictional place filled with unrealistically perfect models.
Research has even backed up the idea that inclusivity is beneficial in the advertising world. Recently, a Kantar study found that ads that are considered progressive are 25% more effective. The study judged effectiveness by how pleased viewers were, the memorability of the advertisement, and actual metrics related to progressive campaigns.
What is inclusive marketing?
Inclusive marketing describes campaigns that embrace diversity by including people from different backgrounds or stories that unique audiences can relate to. While some inclusive campaigns make an effort to break stereotypes, others simply aim to reflect or embrace people in the real world.
With successful inclusive marketing campaigns, marketers aim to break advertising norms by highlighting people or groups that might be under- or misrepresented, such as people of color, those who identify as LGBTQ+, those who affiliate with various religions, those who are disabled, or even people of certain ages and genders.
But, inclusive marketing isn't always easy to do right. An inclusive or thought-provoking campaign takes time, effort, and careful thought to be successful. And, it's not just about picking the right stock image and giving yourself a gold star. It's about making a solid effort to include or properly represent diverse people in your campaigns.
As Google noted in a recent post, "Diverse marketing isn’t just a box you can tick. There are so many layers to diversity beyond gender or skin color. It’s also about age. Geography. Socio-economic diversity. Relatable jobs. Abilities. Sexuality."
But, what exactly does inclusivity look like in the marketing world? Keep reading to learn about how seven brands, including Google, absolutely nailed inclusive marketing in their campaigns.
Examples of Successful Inclusive Marketing
1. Procter & Gamble
While P&G is known for its ownership of a variety of cleaning and toiletry companies, including Tide, Dove, and Gillette, the major corporation also creates initiatives to ensure inclusivity in its marketing and products.
Not only do some P&G ads include people from diverse backgrounds, but they also use their platform to tell stories that spread powerful messages about equality, tackle controversial issues, and discuss topics related to diversity and identity.
One example of P&G's inclusive commercials is a 2018 Emmy-winning ad called "The Talk."
The hard-hitting commercial -- which corresponded with P&G's "Black is Beautiful" and "Proud Sponsor of Moms" initiatives -- depicts African American mothers in multiple decades as they have difficult conversations with their children about racism.
At the beginning of the ad, a mother brushing her daughter's hair ominously tells says, "It's not a compliment."
As you might wonder what she's referring to, you start to see scenes of other black mothers talking to their children about racism and judgement that they'll face in life. For example, one mother tells her son, "There are some people who think you don't deserve the same privileges just because of what you look like. It's not fair. It's not."
The ad begins to get darker as you see mothers instructing their children of what to do when they are pulled over to avoid police brutality.
At the climax of the ad, it's revealed that the daughter featured at the beginning was called, "Beautiful for a black girl." Her mother tells her not to accept this compliment and concludes, "You are beautiful, period!"
The ad ends with text in all caps stating, "LET'S ALL TALK ABOUT 'THE TALK' -- SO WE CAN END THE NEED TO HAVE IT."
This commercial doesn't beat around the bush. Instead, its goal is to expose the unthinkable closed-door conversations that African American mothers need to have with their children to keep them safe and strong in the face of racism. By informing people of these conversations, P&G aims to create a discussion that might create change or end the need for mothers to feel they have to prepare their children for racism or judgment.
When it came to the commercial's goal of creating a discussion, "The Talk" was a success in that it was chattered about by social media users, advocacy groups, and major news outlets.
During an interview about the ad, P&G's Global Communications Director, Damon Jones told AdAge, "We know that bias is not just an African American issue. It's an issue that takes on many shapes and forms, across gender, race, age, weight, sexual orientation, and more."
"Our goal with 'The Talk' is to help raise awareness about the impact of bias," he added. "We are also hopeful that we can make progress toward a less biased future by recognizing the power of people of all backgrounds and races showing up for one another."
To learn more about "The Talk" and other Emmy-award nominated campaigns, check out this rundown.
In a 2018 ThinkWithGoogle post, Lorraine Twohill revealed that the tech giant did a deep dive to determine the level and quality of diversity in its campaigns. The project, which was done with help from machine learning and experts at the Geena Davis Institute, allowed a task force to analyze diversity related to race, gender, and socioeconomics.
"Our images had lots of racial diversity. But everyone looked like they worked in tech and lived in a hip, urban neighborhoods," Twohill wrote in the post.
Along with socioeconomic disparity, Twohill also revealed that Google needed to up its game when representing gender as well.
"My team brought me a new campaign to review. Dad was cooking in the kitchen. Great! I was proud that they had flipped a stereotype," she explains. "But the next image showed he was there because mom was in the hospital having a baby. Sorry, dad, but we had to reshoot. Mom was away because she was on a business trip."
To address issues related to misrepresenting or under-representing different backgrounds, Google launched a training course to tackle diversity in its campaigns. Twohill notes that 90% of her team and 200 agency partners have taken this course.
As a result, Google began to launch even more thought-provoking campaigns, including a Pixel 2 commercial called "The Picture-Perfect Life," which shows real photos of Google Pixel users from different backgrounds, while also tackling the tough topic of mental illness.
In the commercial, Google aims to show that although someone might seem happy in photos or videos, they might still be struggling with mental distress on the inside:
The ad, narrated by Logic, a Grammy-nominated rapper who spread awareness of a suicide hotline in his thought-provoking song, "1-800-273-8255," opens with images of seemingly happy people shot with the Pixel 2.
All of the photos you see look like the downright pleasant photos you'd see in any smartphone ad focused on highlighting a great camera. For example, you see crisp and clear shots of a man with his daughter, a girl making donuts, a man playing basketball, a mother singing in the car with her family, and a few people at parties with friends. But, as the commercial progresses, you learn that there's a hidden side to each person's story.
As the slideshow shows photos of each person, Logic introduces them and explains what the visuals are showing. For example, when the ad shows photos of a girl in an empty apartment, Logic explains, "This is Lauren, and this is her new place, which will soon be crammed with all of her friends."
But, towards the end of the commercial, you see a girl looking down at a smartphone screen that repeatedly says "1-800-273-8255." Logic says, "And this? This is the lifeline that all these people bravely called to find hope."
"Not every picture tells the whole story," Logic concludes. "Question your lens."
"The Picture-Perfect Life" aims to represent and identify with people dealing with mental illness while informing viewers that friends, family, or loved ones might seem happy or put together on the outside while still struggling behind closed doors. While this content might educate viewers about mental health, it also informs those with these struggles that Google identifies with them and that there are resources that can help.
Overall, the commercial is Google's attempt to present it's real customers while spreading a message that the tech company is trustworthy and supports its followers.
Like P&G's, "The Talk," this campaign and Logic's song, which played in the background of the ad, got heavy discussion and shares online. Since it originally aired during the Grammy Awards in 2018, it's gotten major online discussion and was also covered in publications like AdWeek and The Washington Post.
Recently, it came to Microsoft's attention that children with certain physical disabilities or missing limbs were having difficulty playing video games with traditional controllers. The company began working on an alternative controller which included touchpads instead of buttons and bright colors for the visually impaired. They also opened a channel of communication where disabled people who still couldn't use the controller could write to them requesting customizations.
This product launch culminated in a Super Bowl commercial where Microsoft interviewed the gamers about how the controller helped them and featured quotes from the engineers that led the project. The commercial, titled "We All Win," shows just how far the major tech company will go to help customers and prospects with all different abilities.
In the ad, a handful of children with physical disabilities introduce themselves and begin talking about how much they love video games and how it helps them bond with their friends.
"I love video games, my friends, family, and again video games," says one boy. Meanwhile, a young girl points out that she enjoys "the fun [video games] let you have when you're connecting with your friends."
At one point, a child's father adds, "It's his way of interacting with his friends when he can't physically otherwise do it."
While video games make these children happy, the commercial reveals that there's one underlying issue preventing accessibility: controller designs.
"When I'm playing with a regular controller, there are some things that don't work for me," says a boy with one hand.
Another boy who also has one hand says, "I never thought it was unfair. I just thought, 'Hey. This is the way it is and it's never going to change."
After establishing the issue of accessibility, the commercial shows children excitedly opening new adaptive controllers from Microsoft.
"What I like about the adaptive controller is that now, everyone can play," narrates one child, while another says "I can hit the buttons just as fast as [other gamers] can."
Another boy giggles and says, "I think I can crush my friends."
The commercial ends with inspirational text that says, "When everybody plays, we all win."
While the adaptive controller ad successfully shows off happy customers and Microsoft's newest technology, the overall campaign and product more importantly aim to empower young people with disabilities who might think that getting excluded from day-to-day activities is just going to be part of life.
Even if a viewer with disabilities isn't interested in gaming, they might watch this commercial and trust Microsoft's brand more because the company learned about the unique challenges of its customers and created a product just to solve those problems. Similarly, someone without disabilities might trust Microsoft brand more because they've seen the lengths that the company will go to to help unique groups of customers.
While the adaptive controller and Microsoft's agency, McCann New York, won a Clios for Design, Innovation, and Branded Entertainment, the video advertisement itself received 29.5 million views and 250 thousand likes on YouTube.
Coca-Cola is no stranger to embracing diversity in its ads. If you grew up in the 1970s or 80s, you might remember the company's famous "I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke" commercial. When filming the ad, Coca-Cola young adults from all around the world to sing the jingle, "I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke."
The ad was considered groundbreaking as it united people from all different races and ethnicities around the common interests of Coca-Cola and world peace. In short, it aimed to show that even though people can come from different backgrounds, everyone has something in common.
Since then, Coca-Cola has continued to create campaigns that link diverse people together with a simple bottle of Coke.
Since 2013, Coca-Cola has run the "Share a Coke" campaign where labels on plastic bottles of Coke say "Share a Coke with …" and include names from around the world.
This campaign celebrates names around the world and is highly shareable. For example, people regularly post images of bottles on social media when they see their own name or the name of someone they know.
Later in 2014, Coca-Cola launched an ad, titled "Together It's Beautiful," that gives you a small peek into the daily lives of U.S. residents who all share a similar sense of pride for the United States despite their vastly different ethnic or geographical backgrounds.
As the ad begins, you see a man on a horse with a cowboy hat in a rural area as you hear the opening line of, "America, The Beautiful" sung in English. Then, it shows children in a movie theater as the next line of the song is sung in Spanish. From this point, each lyric is sung in a different language as you see different scenes of people around the United States.
As you see each scene and hear the song, which embraces American pride, the commercial reminds you of how diverse the United States truly is.
At the pique of the commercial, you begin to see subtle Coca-Cola branding intertwined within each scene. At one point, children swim down to the bottom of a pool to pick up Coke caps. At another, you see the Coca-Cola logo painted on the wall of a building.
Similarly to the "I'd Like to Buy the World A Coke" ad noted above, Coca-Cola aims to unite people of different cultures around a few common things. While the 1971 ad connected people with a love of Coca-Cola and hopes for world peace, the 2014 commercial shows that even vastly different U.S. residents share the same love of Coke and a sense of American pride.
In 2017, Coca-Cola published a statement explaining the meaning of the ad:
"The premise of ‘It’s Beautiful’ can be simply stated: America is beautiful and Coca-Cola is for everyone. It celebrates Coca-Cola moments among all Americans and features snapshots of American families," Coca-Cola writes. "We believe it’s a powerful ad that promotes optimism, inclusion and celebrates humanity – values that are core to Coca-Cola. 'It’s Beautiful' shows just a few of the ways Americans enjoy our brand and how Coca-Cola brings families and friends together every day."
One of the things that makes Coca-Cola's inclusive campaigns so successful is that they are able to identify and highlight the simple things that all sorts of people have in common. This commercial reminds us that Coke is a beloved and recognized brand, but it most importantly shows us that we all can find common ground regardless of how different we might seem from one another.
ThirdLove is a lingerie company that aims to make items for all different body types. To enforce this brand message, they show real women of all ages, shapes, and races -- rather than touched up, high-fashioned models -- in their marketing assets.
Here's an example where ThirdLove's Facebook cover photo shows an older woman and a younger woman wearing items from its lingerie line.
ThirdLove also shows imagery on its site and social media platforms that show multiple women wearing bras from the company to show off the variations in body types that its clothing can be made for:
In an open letter published in the New York Times, ThirdLove's CEO and Co-Founder Heidi Zak discussed the company's strategy of depicting all women, how brands like Victoria's Secret should be empowered by diversity, and why inclusivity should be seen as a movement rather than a trend.
“We believe the future is building a brand for every woman, regardless of her shape, size, age, ethnicity, gender identity or sexual orientation. This shouldn’t be seen as groundbreaking, it should be the norm," she wrote.
While ThirdLove's ads and visuals might be relatable to many different types of women, its inclusive brand has also seen 347% year-over-year sales growth, according to Shopify.
You don't have to do a campaign just about diversity or equality to nail inclusive marketing. Sometimes, inclusive marketing simply entails showing off your wide range of real-life customers. Bumble's "Find Me On Bumble" campaign is a great example of how a brand can be inclusive just by highlighting its awesome customers.
In a video for the campaign, Bumble explains that the app sees a variety of great users in the New York City area and the company wanted to celebrate them. To do this, the company sought out some of Bumble's most interesting New Yorkers and brought them together to tell their stories.
"Every connection you make on Bumble is an opportunity to meet someone who can impact your life. Inspiring people are everywhere. We wanted to celebrate them," notes text at the beginning of the content.
As the video continues, you get a glimpse of different Bumble users posing for a photoshoot as you see short clips of interviews with them.
A few examples of the people shown in the Bumble video are a political operative, an entrepreneur, an opera singer, and a model and activist.
In each person's interview clip, they note a life lesson they've learned or given details on their backstory. For example, the political operative explains, "Lots of times, I felt like I had to be forced into a box. Now, I'm the type of person where I don't really care what type of box you put on me or what type of label you put on me, but I'm going to still do what I want."
At another point, an author and activist notes that she's gotten far in her political career by working for people she believed in. "Fifteen years ago, no one even knew who Barack Obama was. So think of all the people who we don't even know exist yet who could have such an impact," she explains.
While the video highlights all the people you can find on Bumble Date, Bumble BFF, and Bumble Bizz, it also recognizes the diversity in New York City. At one point, an orthodontist being filmed says, "I love that there's such a variety of different people here. Living in New York, you still get to meet people from all over the world."
The video ends with images of more people posing for photos with overlaid text that says. "Really New Yorkers, Really Inspiring, Really on Bumble." Then the content closes with a call to action of "Find them on Bumble."
The people invited to Bumble's photoshoot are also highlighted on the @FindThemOnBumble Instagram account.
Rather than marketing images of models or unrealistic people that you could match with on Bumble, the video, Instagram account, and overall campaign focus on real people that have made great accomplishments or embrace their inner confidence. Here's one example where a Bumble user says that the most important lesson they've learned is to be themselves:
The "Find Them on Bumble" campaign is a good example of how a brand can market its customer diversity as one of its biggest assets. When you see multiple people with different backgrounds and motivations using the same product, you might feel that the product is of good quality or you might just connect more deeply with the marketing.
If you're marketing any type of business that connects people to other people, highlighting your current customers or users could make prospects even more interested in working with your brand, especially if they're interested in meeting and learning from interesting people.
In 2016, Axe launched a commercial that embraced all men who used its body spray. While many commercials targeted at men in the past presented unrealistic-looking athletes and related masculinity to physical strength, Axe's ad argues that masculinity is about being confident with your own identity rather than being a stereotypical buff athlete.
The short commercial begins with a car pulling up on a street covered with billboards of buff male models. As a car pulls up with a man in it, a narrator exclaims, "Come on. A six-pack? Who needs a six-pack, when you got the nose?" At the end of the phrase, the man looks and smiles at the camera.
Then the commercial continues with, "Or a nose when you've got the suit?" as the man walks into a bar with a nice outfit. Then the narrator continues to state that a man doesn't need one thing, such as a nice suit, if they have another thing, like "great moves." As the narrator makes each statement, videos depict men doing an action, such as dancing, which goes along with what the narrator is saying.
For example, when the narrator says, "Who needs looks when you got the books?" the video shows a man holding a book titled, "The Power of the Banana" while his friend is shopping for records.
The commercial goes on to show images of all sorts of men finding their passions including a dancer wearing high heels and a man dancing with a woman in a wheelchair. The narration expresses that masculinity is about expressing yourself, embracing your passions, and being confident in who you are.
At the climax of the commercial, the narrator simply says, "And who needs all that when you get the door," as he shows a man opening the door for someone. It ends with the narrator saying, "Who needs some other thing, when you've got your thing. Now work on it."
Rather than encouraging men to work out or marketing to manly men, Axe embraces the idea that all men have different passions and encourages them to embrace the unique aspects of themselves. While some people might think another body spray which markets to strong muscular men is just for athletes and not meant for them, those who view this commercial from Axe might think that a number of people from all sorts of backgrounds use the body spray.
Tips for Building an Inclusive Marketing Strategy
As we've seen with some of today's most successful brands, inclusive marketing is about understanding what makes your audience or customers unique and embracing it. By highlighting what's interesting, inspiring, unique, or different about your audience and how your brand supports them, you might find new audiences that see your campaigns, start identifying more with you, and realize that your brand aligns with their lifestyle.
Here are three key strategies that you can take away from these examples when trying to create more inclusivity in your marketing campaigns:
- Solving for your customers: Like Microsoft or ThirdLove, learn about the unique audiences in your following or customer base. Then, think of ways that you can solve a problem for them or better represent them in your campaigns.
- Highlight real stories: If your brand has customers or even employees that have unique backstories or are driven by unique motivations, embrace these factors in your marketing campaigns. For example, you could take a note from Bumble and interview a few happy customers about what drives them to your product or service.
- Unite people with things they have in common: In ads for Coca-Cola, the beverage company is notable for connecting multiple different stories together by highlighting the major things people have in common, such as a love of Coke, hopes for world peace, or national pride. If you have a diverse audience that uses your service or product, use marketing to highlight how your brand can help all sorts of people rather than a set of unrealistic models.
Now that you've read about inclusivity in marketing, you might be wondering how to get started on your own campaigns. If so, check out this post on how to devise a multicultural marketing strategy. Want to embrace diversity in your overall business? Learn about five benefits in this blog post.
Originally published Nov 12, 2019 7:00:00 AM, updated June 10 2021