Why inclusivity and diversity are essential to the future of brands’ advertising strategies

Inclusive advertising is the art of telling a universal story that touches and relates to everyone despite their demographics.


“Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.”
Verna Myers, diversity and inclusion expert


My question is: who likes to sit alone at the party and watch everyone else enjoy the fun? Well, this is the reality for over half of ethnic minorities in the U.S. 71% of non-white consumers believe that their race is not accurately represented in advertising, compared to 60% of white consumers. Also, 65% of non-white consumers believe they are not frequently represented in social media ads or marketing campaigns, compared to 49% of white consumers. These findings highlight the clear inequality in the advertising industry that we will further investigate in this blog with a specific spotlight on Black people. We will demonstrate the importance of diversity and inclusive marketing, and the clear opportunity for brands to reach all their target audience. We then provide the steps that brands can take to increase the accurate representation of diverse audiences in ad campaigns.

Black inclusivity in advertising

Following the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, brands have spent billions of dollars focusing on creating “un-stereotyped, meaningful and effective communication to drive the cultural change we need” according to Tamara Rogers, CMO of GSK. CreativeX analysed 2,738 U.S adverts in 2020 from across the CPG industry. Their results show there was a 10% increase in ads featuring Black people in 2020, reaching 52.7% of ads in total, but only 1% of all ads featured Black people as leaders. This highlights that there remains a lack of inclusion in leadership roles, evident in the workplace where only 8% of African Americans are in managerial roles in 2021. Illustrating that real inclusivity of roles is still not being fully explored, proving the existence of diversity-washing in both the marketing industry and the workforce. Diversity washing in advertising to me refers to the act of representing minority groups for only marketing purposes. Brand owners should demonstrate inclusivity internally via hiring Black people in leadership roles and externally to avoid diversity-washing, as consumer awareness of diversity-washing in 2022 has heightened and as a result, brands that “don’t practice what they preach” risk greater backlash. It’s important to get it right!

What’s at stake for brands that fail to be inclusive in their marketing?

If brands fail to represent ethnicities accurately and frequently in adverts, they will lose a large share of their existing and future customer base. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) are rising in importance as the “committed activist” Gen Zers strive for change, equipped with $150 billion in global purchasing power. Gen Z are also more sceptical than millennials when it comes to the authenticity of brands, and so inclusive ads provide brands a competitive edge given that 70% of Gen Z respondents are more trusting towards brands that represent diversity in ads. Moreover, Gen Z is also the most diverse generation yet, increasing the pressure for brands to move towards inclusivity marketing to appeal to younger consumers. Gen Z’s no-tolerance perspective towards racial inequality has led 53% of ethnic minorities to stop purchasing from a brand because it didn’t represent their values. As such56% of Gen Z respondents are planning to increase spending on Black-owned brands compared to 45% of all generationsNo matter what gender or ethnicity, advertising is an important opportunity for brands to communicate with the group of consumers they value, therefore it is a key opportunity for brands to express their commitment to DEI, by overcoming cultural biases and increasing inclusion, telling a universal story.

Brands that have more inclusive marketing strategies will increase consumer purchasing intent, reputation, and brand loyalty. 69% of Black consumers are more likely to purchase from a brand whose advertising positively reflects their race/ethnicity. 66% of Black consumers are more likely to return to a brand with advertising that authentically reflects their race/ethnicity.

What does a good example of inclusive and diverse advertising look like?

Here are some good examples of adverts that feature positive Black roles:

Doritos – Solid black

Doritos launched “Solid black” in 2020 as an initiative to invest £5 million towards helping boost the voices of black creators and providing the opportunity to showcase their work and story on Doritos’ website. This demonstrates both a financial commitment and the respective inclusive advert that fights racial inequality.

Häagen-Dazs - #ThatsDazs

The campaign aimed to improve the way they presented their brand, with efforts to realign with cultural trends and reflect consumer sentiments of today. To “make this small luxury available to all, not just a few.” Elizabell Marquez CMO at Häagen-Dazs parent Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream.

Amazon – Meet Tiffany

Amazon spotlights its black employee and communicates their black initiatives to give back to the community. Namely, the Black Business Accelerator; Amazon committed $150 million to empower black entrepreneurs by providing support via mentorship, marketing, and business advice; with the aim of removing barriers of systemic racism to foster opportunity for the African American community.

This is a good example of how brands can communicate their inclusive initiatives.

An advertisement that missed the mark on inclusivity

While there are positive efforts out there to incorporate inclusion marketing campaigns, ads still frequently miss the mark. Here’s one such example of an advert that didn’t consider how ethnic minorities involved in the BLM protests would feel when watching this. Highlighting the importance of demonstrating how you value your consumers in advertising.

Pepsi - Jump in

Pepsi’s ad starring Kendall Jenner in 2017 had to be pulled from the internet by Pepsi with an apology, following immediate backlash on social media, as the ad suggested police brutality could be solved with a mere can of Pepsi.

I believe this advert failed due to either the lack of knowledge or the effort to understand the struggles of Black people. As a result, failed to demonstrate sympathy, therefore I purposely avoid buying Pepsi as they made no effort to engage with me. “Feeling seen” is important and I believe Pepsi failed to make us feel this way, potentially damaging its brand reputation.

How can brands avoid diversity-washing with their advertising?

At this point, it’s clear that it’s important to avoid diversity washing as a no-brainer, and yet brands still do it. Here’s how to help avoid this:

Note: It won’t be simple, but there is no better time to take the first step.

1. Know your consumers by reflecting on them internally

It is imperative to hire a diverse marketing team, bringing cultural insights to then be able to remove social biases in adverts. Currently, most advertisers (brands and agencies) are white. In the US, only 5% of people working in the advertising industry identify as Black. However, Black people represent 14% of the U.S population, demonstrating a clear misalignment. Moreover, all employees should be anti-bias trained, as this will have an impactful ripple effect on what is presented to the target audience.

2. Actively communicate about inclusive initiatives in adverts

Brands can collaborate with retailers to create gifting campaigns or limited-time offers highlighting Black brands, experiences, and culture, and leveraging social media to raise awareness of the role they play.

Publicly communicate specific campaigns that support Black brands via influencer marketing, this is one of the most effective ways to reach your audience in 2022.

Nevertheless, It’s not a one-time effort but should be a genuine effort to inject diversity into the brand’s DNA.

3. Demonstrate how you value your consumers: Words and images in ads matter

  • Strong images evoke a strong response.
  • Stereotypes have no place in your ads, focus on universal stories.
  • Poor language choices can send the wrong message.

91% of U.S. marketers agree that there is room for growth in using more diverse images by marketers. Most companies have a diversity blind spot that indicates the opportunity for brands to take a stand for inclusion sooner than later.

4. Validate your inclusive advertising ideas

Brands should ensure the advert is tested with people of diverse backgrounds that are representative of their target audience. Our global loop of multicultural, opinionated Gen-Zers has equipped us with the ability to help multinational brands by highlighting the flaws in their marketing strategies and better aligning them with the most diverse generation yet, Gen-Z.

Final takeaways for brand owners

It is better for brands to engage in social issues than to avoid the risk of controversy – #norisknoreward.

If consumers feel you share their values, they will reward you with their loyalty – #a two-way street.

Brands that initiate inclusive adverts must also ensure they have a genuine connection to the brand’s product and the company’s bottom line – #nodiversitywashing.

Michael Ergette Michael Ergette