We’ve all seen the memes and jokes that still circulate mocking the 2017 Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad, in which the implication was made that sharing a can of Pepsi with a police officer would be enough to resolve the many serious issues highlighted by racial justice protests. The ad was filled with stereotypes and made light of some very serious social struggles. It was tone deaf to the extreme. Fortunately for Pepsi, the brand was able to recover from the blunder, partly because the ad was widely considered to be SO bad that it was laughable (and meme-able) and partly because Pepsi is, well, Pepsi. But how do things like this happen? How do big brands with massive advertising budgets, entire marketing teams, and hundreds of eyes looking over advertising materials before they’re released to the public, manage to screw this up?
At their core, inclusive advertising failures are a result of DEI failures. A terrible ad being released to the public is very frequently a result of groupthink and echo chambers: two issues that commonly occur in organizations that lack diversity and therefore diversity of thought. If a marketing team consists solely of white, college educated women in their 30s, there is a very good chance that they will think very similarly and generally agree with each other. This lack of dissent and diversity of opinion is dangerous for innovative ideas in general and even more so when it comes to putting out advertising material to the public. A marketing team that looks the same, thinks the same, and comes from the same background can’t possibly understand how a diverse audience will view an ad. On top of that, a culture of groupthink discourages any dissent, meaning that it is unlikely that a problematic ad will be called out as such before it reaches the public. In the absolute best case, lack of diversity within a marketing team means that the ads they produce will most likely only appeal to or reach a small audience, therefore limiting brand power and restricting growth. At worst, it can produce an offensive or culturally insensitive ad that destroys a brand's reputation.
On the other end of the spectrum, inclusive marketing failures can ALSO result from a failure to recognize the differences between DEI and inclusive marketing. While DEI and inclusive marketing go hand in hand, they are not the same thing. It is important to recognize this and realize that what happens internally in an office and the image a brand projects to the world can be completely disconnected. It is frequently said that brand is “what people say about you when you’re not around”. A company may be a wonderful and inclusive place to work for its employees, but extending that to the image the public sees involves additional legwork and an examination of what and how products and/or services are offered. DEI strategy (versus DEI training or hiring) means that DEI extends beyond the physical office and becomes an integral part of the business plan and brand.
Lastly, inclusive marketing and advertising efforts stop short of reaching their potential when brands fail to go beyond race: race is frequently easy to identify, so it’s a no-brainer tactic to use on inclusive marketing, especially in visual advertising. Incorporating other marginalized groups, such as LGBTQ+, neurodiverse, or individuals with disabilities in an accurate and sensitive way is more challenging, but just as meaningful to audiences. An inclusive and diverse team in which a multitude of perspectives are heard and respected is once again the solution to this problem. Think beyond race and beyond what diversity “looks” like. Creativity thrives when DEI is taken seriously, and brands can only benefit from inclusive advertising. Today’s consumers want to feel personally connected to the brands they support, and the only way this is possible is through inclusive marketing and DEI strategy.
Does your company need to align its external and internal DEI strategy? Give FIG a call - we’re experts.