Plus action steps you can take to diversify your team
“We sincerely apologize to the Native American community for the insensitivity of our newest campaign. Though it is never our intention to offend or make light of any culture or race of people, we realize that we did not consider the implications of (insert problematic act). Going forward we will seek to have more diversity and inclusion on our team so to avoid these mishaps in the future…” or something like that, right?
We’ve read the statements time after time that brands repeatedly release after pushing out problematic products and campaigns. Then they almost always follow up with an announcement that they’ve hired a new “VP of Diversity and Inclusion,” whose job it is to hire more underrepresented minorities and migrate them into company culture. Diversity and inclusion should not be an afterthought or hail Mary, they are not safety precautions and they are not buzz words -- they’re conscious efforts. Diversity and inclusion ensures the varied perspectives of underrepresented groups are in the room and at the table. Let’s learn from five examples explicitly showing us why inclusion is an urgency.
The French brand pushed out a campaign featuring a Native American dressed in traditional regalia to market their newest fragrance.
Why is this problematic?
American history includes traumatic patterns of racism dating all the way back to the “discovery” of The New Land. The indigenous people who originally lived on what is now American soil were nearly wiped out due to the white supremacy of European colonizers who saw them as savages. They took away their land, their way of life and pushed what is left of the culture and its people into reservations. So to feature a Native American person in an ad for a fragrance named Sauvage is extremely insensitive.
H&M's monkey shirt
H&M was in hot water after using a young Black boy to model its "coolest monkey in the jungle" sweatshirt.
Why is this problematic?
Of the many derogatory terms used to describe Black people, one of them is “monkey.” Racists compared our strong features to that of apes. Putting a young Black boy in a monkey shirt, while not intentional, has the opposite effect than that of “aw how cute!” A-list celebrities vowed to never support the brand again -- Lebron James, The Weekend (who, at one point in time, was a brand ambassador) -- as well as everyday people like ourselves. As a result, the company took a hit in both sales and brand identity.
Gucci's Black-face sweater
The high-fashion brand took to social media to advertise their Balaclava knit top that, coincidentally, looked a lot like blackface when the model pulled the neck of the shirt up over her mouth. It was classic, undeniable blackface -- black, thick red lips... you know, the same as we saw in the satirical cartoons, acted out by non-Black actors in dramatic makeup, in an effort to poke fun at Blacks.
Additionally, this is problematic because those same cartoons intended to visualize stereotypes of us. And while normal middle-class families aren’t the fashion house’s target audience, celebrities took to their social accounts to call for a complete boycott of the brand.
Following an uproar of backlash, the company released the following statement, “We are fully committed to increasing diversity throughout our organization and turning this incident into a powerful learning moment for the Gucci team and beyond." Gucci later announced the hire of a new diversity executive.
Dolce & Gabanna's Instagram ad
Chinese retailers pulled Dolce & Gabbana off the shelves after culturally inaccurate ad videos showed a Chinese woman eating Italian food with...chopsticks?
Yes, chopsticks; and to make matters worse, several screenshots surfaced of the fashion house’s Instagram account where cruel language -- allegedly posted by hackers -- was used in reference to the country and in defense of the videos.
Why is this problematic? The videos were seen as racist and they featured outdated stereotypes of Chinese people. According to the CBC, the brand was forced to cancel a major extravaganza that the company dubbed one of its largest shows outside of Italy. The two designers resolutely issued a video apology following the entire fiasco.
Gillette's "Toxic Masculinity" ad
The shaving brand tried its hand at taking a stand against toxic masculinity. The brand aimed to show men how they could take a stand against inappropriate behaviors, using the tagline “the best a man can be” -- a switch up from its “the best a man can get” campaign.
The problem is the ad upset a lot of men, many of whom were longtime customers of Gillette. Some called it “feminist propaganda” in regard to the way the video depicted men. At the height of the #metoo movement, we can kind of see the statement they were trying to make, but the way they went about it alienated their primary target audience. As more brands aim to be politically responsive, many walking the fine line often fall off the deep end in by coming close but no cigar in how they use their creativity to demonstrate their stance. It would’ve been easy for the company to simply say they stand with women everywhere who have been victims of sexual assault without throwing all men completely under the bus. But the video, while a likely expensive attempt, did not say that. Pictures are worth 1,000 words.
How do we fix it?
We preach this mantra all the time: wE NeEd DiVersItY aNd IcLUsIoN IN MaRkEtInG! However, we’re still seeing insensitive and/or politically incorrect ad campaigns. It’s time we start diversifying the executive suite and the creative team. Each of the above examples could have been avoided had someone been around to raise their hand and call attention to the lack of insight that some of these campaigns display. Inauthenticity is obvious and easy to spot, especially in the digital age.
According to AdWeek, the purchasing power of women in the U.S. alone ranges from $5 trillion to $15 trillion annually, and African American buying power was roughly $1.2 trillion in 2017.
With those numbers, who wouldn’t want to target their products toward women and African Americans? However, if you’re going to target these groups, you have to do serious market research to study A) what gaps your product is filling for that community and B) what your target audience will respond favorably to and vice versa. Blind marketing will lead to pay raises for crisis PR teams time and again if brands aren’t strategic about how they target consumers (we just went through five examples of such). True inclusivity is more than adding minorities to the team. Bring us into the room and be open to learning our unique perspectives and experiences.
I learned in a Forbes article that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, although women hold 72.8% of public relations (and fundraising) management jobs overall, only 10.7% of roles are held by those who are black, 3.1% by Asians, and 3.1% by Hispanics or Latinos. The article said marketing and sales managers share similar demographics, with blacks making up 6.7%, Asians 5.4%, and Hispanics and Latinos 9.7%. Women managers, overall, make up 47.6% of the industry.
A lot of that comes from a lack of representation in the field, so that means there need to be additional efforts made to increase diversity in marketing and communications overall. Moving forward, be proactive in: