May 13, 2021
What a Time to Be Alive!
I fully recognize how strange, or even out of touch, the title of this article may seem after the year we’ve shared or the widespread loss and suffering we see occurring daily. So, allow me to explain.
I was part of a generation who grew up with society telling me pretty blondes with washboard abs and poreless, painted faces were who I should aspire to be. I was sold products to help me achieve the look, and given endless tips on ways to deny, abuse, and trim away at myself so that I, too, could fit into this narrow idea of beauty, self-acceptance, and success. That was just the normal experience of growing up as a fat, white female. People across races, genders, sexual orientations, body sizes, and disabilities all have had their own unique, formative experiences growing up outside of society’s spotlight of approval. But now, times are changing. Whether you’re scrolling through social media, shopping online, or even flipping through a streaming platform, inclusivity and representation are increasingly becoming delightfully inescapable.
Yes, this movement is nothing new. Many companies have grown to be conscious about showing diversity in their advertising, avoiding sexist or racist narratives, speaking up in the face of injustice, representing all bodies, and even considering gender identities in their approach to marketing traditionally female items like bras and menstruation products. Target embraces body inclusivity by featuring models with disabilities; Aerie vowed to stop retouching their models in 2014 and never looked back; and Procter & Gamble and Ben & Jerry’s have both used their platforms to shed light on social injustices, encouraging change and equality.
There’s power in advertising; the power to break people down or build them up. The strides these companies and others have made are incredible and a great example of responsible advertising. But there’s still room to grow. Some companies pursue inclusion and diversity in their marketing campaigns because it’s the right thing to do for good PR, not because they fundamentally embrace it. And in time, that tactic will stop serving them. Here’s why.
Today’s youth can turn to social media platforms like TikTok and see themselves looking back at the content being created by other users. Every gender identity, race, and body are there, and they’re all being celebrated. And if you stumble upon a page where they aren’t, you’re just a swipe away from finding yourself back among the welcoming arms of people just like you. This high exposure to genuine inclusivity and self-acceptance is having an impact on awareness; it’s a driving force behind today’s “Cancel Culture.” This increased awareness means generations coming up in the world have the tools and insight to hold brands accountable to do what looks right and what is right. And while they may not have all the buying power yet, they eventually will.
So what can companies do to grow as their customer base evolves?
1. Be Aware
Inclusivity isn’t just about making sure there’s a person of color in the commercial, a gay couple in the print ad, or a plus-size woman in a leading role. Yes, these things all need to be happening. But context is everything. Be thoughtful about the stories you’re telling, and how the people you’re casting are portrayed. It may check your inclusivity box, but is it adding to stereotypes or harmful narratives and tropes?
2. Be Consistent
Gone are the days of one-off stunts to gain favor in the eyes of consumers. If your action is only a reaction to a national crisis or a trending hashtag, people will notice it fading with time and your 15 minutes of woke fame will be over. Genuine change and awareness are constant and consistent and don’t stop when the spotlight goes away.
3. Do the Work
It’s not easy, but it’s necessary. If you want to remain relevant and connect with your audience in a meaningful, measurable way, you must understand their history and experience. Deeply learn about your audience and what matters and motivates them; it’s not just about identifying their race, household income, or family size. Intimately learn about who you’re speaking to if you want to truly build a cult following.
The future is colorful, varied, and distinctly different. And as advertisers, we get to use our awareness to contribute to building that future and helping our clients find their stride in this ever-evolving world. So I’ll say it again, what a time to be alive!
Feeling invigorated? Let’s talk.