Media frames reality.
The images, words, and stories that we hear in marketing and advertising have a subtle but significant impact on how we see the world. Yet according to a 2018 study by IPSOS, 72% of people feel most advertising doesn’t reflect the world around them, 63% claim they don’t see themselves represented in most advertising, and 60% say they don’t see their community of friends, family, and acquaintances represented accurately. As businesses strive to connect with new audiences, culturally sensitive marketing practices remain a rich, untapped area of opportunity.
So where can marketing teams start? Here are three key considerations for creating inclusive content that cuts through the clutter and connects with customers.
1. Avoid Tokenism or Surface-Level Representation
We’ve all seen the content that attempts inclusion by displaying models of many races and identities—but somehow falls flat. Content like this often comes across as surface-level and tokenizing—”diverse” but without real commitment. In our work with clients, this is often a symptom of speed, urgency, and low DEI fluency within content creation teams, which prevents a more nuanced approach. When we counsel these teams to look through the lens of impact and intention and ask how a certain word or image choice would land for different customer targets, a more authentic approach to representation starts to emerge. Reducing bias in the planning and creative stages builds capacity for more inclusive marketing practices.
Consider, for example, a recent case study with a ReadySet client: In 2019, we partnered with a beauty and skincare client looking to strengthen their approach to inclusivity after the 2020 Pull Up Or Shut Up Campaign demanding authentic DEI action from beauty brands. ReadySet assessed internal operations and content, solving for a gap between the selective representation of Black and Brown models in collateral and the reality of limited team diversity internally. Over 2 years, ReadySet partnered with this client to improve internal representation, upskill the marketing team through training, and integrate a DEI scorecard to guide content creation. The client has since formalized an approach to assessing inclusivity in campaigns and has increased representation in their partnerships and user-generated content (UGC) in support of authentic engagement with consumers.
2. Focus on Context and Storytelling to Accelerate Authenticity
Most guidance on inclusive marketing tends to focus on images, language, and tone. But these elements are simply the visible part of the iceberg. A deeper authenticity emerges when our clients focus on the context (i.e. the moment in which the content will be received) and the story-telling arc (i.e. the underlying narrative of the piece). Consider the questions, why this content? Why now? Why should you – new audience – care?
This type of approach asks who/what the subject of the piece is (the customer, the product or the service being marketed) and how the messaging connects to what’s happening in the world or is situated in historical context. These “below the water line” considerations influence how the content lands and what makes it memorable.
Take, for example, P&G’s award-winning Black is Beautiful ad, ‘The Talk’ or Always’ famous ‘Like A Girl’ campaign in 2014. These two examples pushed the bar on storytelling and used their platforms to reshape narratives. Now, not every marketing strategy needs to push the cultural bar as an avenue for attracting new audiences. However, ensuring bias reduction is an active consideration and contextual evaluation will ensure your content is not accidentally alienating audiences or actively perpetuating harm. A risk-based lens would consider Dove’s Infamously Racist T-shirt Ad, which unraveled the credibility earned during their inclusive Real Beauty Campaign. At a minimum, our advice is to create a checklist of questions that cover identity and connotation in your material or upskill your team on recognizing these factors through the content development process.
3. Consider Accessibility to Deepen Impact
Accessibility asks how easy or difficult it is for customers in target audiences to receive the content’s message. Is the content better experienced on the computer or is the mobile experience optimized? Are the colors and fonts easy to distinguish and read per ADA compliance? Is video content close-captioned? These considerations help mitigate obstacles to engaging with the content that could alienate audiences. In our client work, we’ve noticed that accessibility considerations often happen at the end. We encourage teams to notice the difference in impact when accessibility is built-in from the beginning.
Isn’t Inclusive Marketing Simply Good Marketing?
In short, yes. Good marketing ensures clarity on customer needs, strong story-telling, inspiring images/language, and content that’s easy to access. Given the reality that many audiences still feel alienated and underrepresented, an inclusive marketing framework or checklist can be deeply impactful tools to connecting with new audiences, consumers and markets.