Inclusivity: The missing denominator behind advertising mishaps

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Dove had a compelling message it wanted to communicate, but somewhere along the internal process, it got lost in translation, say Stylus' head of media & marketing.

When a brand strays off-path it can cause great unrest amongst loyal consumers. We saw it last week with Dove—a powerful brand with a long-standing, public-facing mission to champion real beauty. Yet its latest campaign missed the mark.

Diversity, and by natural extension, inclusivity, has been a key brand value for Dove that has—on the whole—previously been delivered both consistently and with care. So where did it go wrong?

Internal inclusivity.

The aim of Dove’s latest campaign wasn’t to offend anyone—there will have been a clear, very compelling message that the brand wanted to communicate. It’s something that Lola Ogunyemi, one of the models in the campaign, spoke out about, telling BBC’s Newsbeat that it was "supposed to be about all skin types deserving gentleness." Yet somewhere—through the internal process—this message got lost in translation. 

The changing narrative on diversity within the advertising industry is forcing brands and agencies to rethink their internal inclusion strategies. Creative agencies are realising that their teams must faithfully reflect diverse demographics to connect with the broadest possible audiences.

And the response can take on multiple forms. Havas Chicago’s interactive #BlackAtWork installation for Black History Month 2017 invited staff, clients and passers-by into a space that addresses some of the everyday micro-aggressions black employees encounter in the workplace. It was a playful and simplified approach, but by physically representing these everyday experiences, Havas turned them into conversation starters. It also closed the loop between agency, brands and consumers.

And we’re seeing efforts made beyond these four walls too. Deloitte begin to phase out affinity groups in favour of inclusivity strategies to help broaden horizons and opportunities across the board. 

By the end of 2018, Deloitte will also discontinue its current advocacy programs for minority employees and military veterans, as well as Globe—a support network for gay employees. It plans to replace all of these initiatives with inclusion councils that bring together a variety of viewpoints and can work together on diversity issues.

While expecting minority employees to fit in can undermine the value of a diverse workforce, neglecting the needs of majority employees sparks resistance to change. Instead of isolating minorities in mutual interest, diversity needs to be embedded in a company’s culture at every level. Making diversity everybody's concern is key. 

Not only will this help to overcome "color-blindness" and tokenism—but it levels the playing field, empowering employees at all levels to bring their efforts to the table. Having a team with diverse backgrounds equips companies with a broader variety of viewpoints and crucial problem-solving strategies that facilitates more versatile solutions—giving brands and agencies a critical edge over their competition. It ensures that compelling messages don’t get lost in translation. 

And there’s a positive knock-on effect. Inclusive workplaces naturally attract talent from diverse backgrounds and will appeal to Gen — a post-diversity generation. Their sense of inclusivity—celebrating difference, seeking and expressing divergent attitudes—is just part of who they are, and they'll expect the same of the businesses they want to work for. 

To understand each other's perspectives on life and make them a fruitful contribution to work, we must speak openly about our differences. Brands that want to engage a global audience cannot fully understand that audience's needs without being powered by diverse thinking.

Christian Ward is head of media & marketing at Stylus.