Inclusive Marketing: Embrace or Cancel?

Image of Lisette Arsuaga in a black turtle-neck blouse in a screenshot of Campaign US' op-ed titled "Inclusive marketing: embrace or cancel?"

Inclusive marketing: embrace or cancel?

by Lisette Arsuaga

Pictured: Lisette Arsuaga. (Photo used with permission)

Pictured: Lisette Arsuaga. (Photo used with permission)

A new study reveals what consumers really think.

Today, our country, and the advertising industry with it, face a challenge.

Americans, by and large, believe in inclusion, acceptance, equity and belonging for everyone — even if we sometimes disagree on how to achieve it.

The minority of voices resistant to inclusion is getting louder and their demands for exclusion more prevalent. They are creating fear, doubt, insecurity and even dangerous myths. Fear of “getting it wrong” has increased our silence, minimized recent efforts to connect with diverse consumers and empowered a minority driven by hate.

No one would argue that getting inclusion right is easy, but it’s never impossible. The bottom line is that ignoring the need for relevancy amid demographic shifts is abandoning any strategy for growth.  

True inclusivity is when ALL segments are visible, respected and understood. Every person — regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, religion, age or culture — should have equal rights, representation, opportunities, support, understanding, respect, consideration, voice and the ability to achieve their full potential.

Based on this belief, we have a responsibility to use our collective power as an industry to end systemic racism and achieve equality and justice.

There is no room for “selective inclusivity” in our industry. Not all marketers understand or are prepared to reach diverse audiences in culturally authentic ways, but there are resources that can support strategies to do so — like the Association of National Advertisers’ AIMM.  

Regardless, it's important to have a sound set of corporate and brand values based on acceptance and equality guiding inclusive strategies, supported by measurable KPIs to prove their contribution growth. Learnings from one segment can often be applied to other segments, increasing growth exponentially, while opening the prism of inclusivity.

Today’s outsized influence from a minority group of voices stands in contrast to the fact that our country is becoming more diverse every year; with each new generation we see far more intersectionality and fluidity than the one before.

In fact, according to a 2023 study conducted by the Cultural Inclusion Accelerator (CIA) for AIMM, a majority of consumers support brands that treat people equally, regardless of gender (66%), race/ethnicity (68%), abilities (68%) and sexual orientation (59%).  

As brands look right and left to gauge whether it's safe to reach out to diverse audiences without being attacked by biased consumers, the answer is not to stay away. The answer is to dive in — and make sure you know how to dive when you do. A belly flop is not fun to watch, and certainly not fun to execute.

A sound strategy and internal alignment are key in committing to reach diverse audiences. Comms teams should be onboard as well, so that they are able to speak up on behalf of their companies, both internally and externally.

The latest pushback against LGBTQ+ audiences could make some marketers believe that staying away from this group is the way to go. Yet, our study proves that 55% of the general population is comfortable with gay and lesbian representation in ads, and another 22% is neutral. Only 22% are not comfortable. Similarly, 50% of the general population is comfortable with transgender representation in ads, with 24% neutral and 26% uncomfortable.

Furthermore, for every consumer that supports brands that back down from LGBTQ+ advertising, there are 1.8 consumers who would withdraw support from brands that acquiesce to anti-LGBTQ+ attacks. In other words, the risk of doing nothing is greater.

Consumers are more savvy today than ever before. They know when a brand dips their toe in the water and when they’re all in.

Modern marketers have moved beyond short-lived partnerships. Yet many still are only present during heritage months or Juneteenth. They activate short-lived partnerships with diverse influencers and celebrities without any strategic programs, community and philanthropic partnerships, diverse suppliers or agencies, diverse-owned targeted media or messaging to stand behind them.

Consumers recognize this tokenism and expect better.  

There are experts, consultants and agencies willing and able to help companies get it right. It’s time to place due value on them and bring them on board. As consumer expectations continue to increase and our country becomes more diverse, these are the experts Corporate America needs today.

Now is the opportune moment to incorporate them into your marketing arsenal.  

Lisette Arsuaga is the co-founder of ANA’s AIMM and co-president of DMI Consulting.

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