Lessons from L'Oréal: the rewards and responsibilities of brand diversity strategy

Brands cannot be the face of modern diversity without giving it a voice, writes Karmarama's senior creative strategist.

Brands taking a stand on diversity has become marketing’s latest golden ticket.

On the face of it, it’s a winning boardroom sell with its promise of immediate millennial/Gen Z appeal, brand fame, and relevance.

But, as L’Oréal find themselves at the centre of a racism storm with the influencer they hired to increase their relevance now actively campaigning against them, it makes us think about the key things brands need to be aware of when thinking about their diversity strategy.

Ultimately there are two types of diversity strategy for brands"

1) Being inclusive

This means brands ensure communications are inclusive and reflective of society. This isn’t a bold move, it simply amounts to not reinforcing society’s problems, but many brands are not even there yet.

2) Being a leader on diversity

This means brands actively take a stand on diversity in society as their core message in communications.

Taking a stand on diversity has big potential benefits but takes bravery

It takes bravery because taking a stand on diversity can get political very quickly. Creating change in society is challenging, divisive, and controversial work, led by challenging, divisive, controversial (and brilliant) leaders. These are attributes that most brands are reluctant to embrace and therefore why diversity isn’t put at the heart of their mission.

Taking a stand on diversity can only be done by brands that have laid the groundwork

Few brands have the right opportunity to do this, as taking a stand on diversity stretches far beyond communications. Diversity must be embedded into your products, your purpose and your culture. And your people must be behind it. If the first time diversity crops up is in a meeting about external communications, your brand isn’t ready, and both your consumers and staff will see through it.

But if you have laid the groundwork, and your whole organisation believes in what you are doing, you will be well-placed to hold firm and succeed amid the divided opinion that will undoubtedly ensue.

When Honey Maid received major backlash over its "This is wholesome" campaign, it released a further campaign asserting its unwavering position. It was ready for the inevitable politics of diversity, and it believed in the stand it had taken. Had they instead dropped their initial ad, they would have faced significant backlash.

The real tragedy to come from these events would be for the marketing community to see being inclusive as too risky a move, rather than their duty. As advertisers that would mean leading society backwards, as well as leading our clients to bad business decisions.

For brands that want to truly take a stand on diversity, and have genuinely laid the groundwork, the prize of fame and relevance is there for the taking. We should encourage them to do it, as long as we always remember that you cannot have the face of modern diversity without giving it a voice. 

Matthew Waksman is senior creative strategist at Karmarama and a member of PrideAM, the ad industry organisation for LGBT+ people

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