The political and social turbulence of Britain voting itself out of the EU, in part due to anti-immigration sentiment, and Donald Trump becoming President-elect despite threatening to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, means that brand marketers should make more, and not less effort to promote diversity in their marketing campaigns. Diversity will remain at the top of marketers' agendas for 2017, instead of becoming the norm, and marketers should embrace this opportunity if they have not already.
Brands have traditionally been at the forefront of promoting messages of diversity. Coca-Cola was one of the first brands to feature African American families and sport stars in its marketing campaigns during America's civil rights movement. No small accomplishment considering at the time African Americans were being denied the right to buy Coke from soda fountains due to U.S. segregation laws. And the 1971 Coca-Cola Hilltop TV commercial "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing" was equally groundbreaking. The popular advert featured multicultural teenagers singing in unison on top of a hill, and overcoming cultural barriers by promoting messages of love.
Marketers are wising up to the fact that consumers don't want to buy products or services that are advertised solely by images of white heterosexuals. This is not what the world looks like (and never did) although advertisers, TV and filmmakers have sometimes told us otherwise. The rise of social media, social acceptance and cross-cultural communication, is halting the brakes on unrealistic ad campaigns that fail to reflect cultural diversity, and changing the face of media.
And marketers are trying to keep up. We recently surveyed 500 UK-based marketers on their use of images featuring diversity within brand campaigns in the last year. Most marketers have traditionally prioritised brand messaging above all else. Now, most marketers agree that reflecting racial diversity (71%), sexual diversity (79%) and non-traditional families (66%) in marketing images is more important than reflecting the brand message.
Diversity and inclusion, far from being buzzwords or quotas for businesses, are the driving forces behind recent campaigns from Heineken, Oreos, Kellogg's, Tiffany and Co, Doritos and Absolut. Brand traditions are still consistent in the campaigns - Tiffany and Co's still oozes age-old class and the Doritos campaign is still colourful and tongue in cheek - but sexual diversity is unquestionably the selling point.
These brands aren't changing their minds and coming out in support of gay rights. These brands just never had an opinion. The influx of brands supporting London's Gay Pride such as Barclays, Tesco and Starbucks, confirms this shift in corporate marketing strategies. It is okay for brands to have an opinion, if this opinion celebrates diversity - as Coke revealed so successfully with its groundbreaking campaigns in the U.S. When real-life values infiltrate corporate values, marketers can rethink what their brand represents.
However, there is still some way to go. A recent British report, Muslim Pound, finds that Muslims in the UK have an estimated spending power of £20.5 billion, but products and communications aimed at British Muslim consumers are lacking and don't reflect this.
Muslim Pound reports that Muslim financial services in the UK are currently valued at £1.3 trillion. Shutterstock's research finds that financial marketers score the lowest of all sectors at using racially diverse images in marketing campaigns. Just 28% of marketers in financial services used images of diversity in the past year. Compare this to the HR sector, where 60% of HR marketers recently used diverse images. It is understandable why HR companies should want to promote messages of inclusivity and diversity, but why not financial services? £1.3 trillion is no small figure.
Marketers who dismiss diversity as a gimmick or not right for their brand, are missing out on a huge business opportunity. Diversity is not just for feel-good value. Marketers have a social and corporate responsibility to reflect the reality of our society, and brands connecting with, and selling appropriately to, a brand's diverse consumer base will see an increase in audience engagement. And with diversity staying at the top of marketers' agendas for 2017, there has never been a better time to join in.