Addressing Diversity in Advertising, from Race to Disabilities

By Courtney Allen  | 

The United States is one of the most diverse countries in the world, with 40 percent of its population identifying as a racial or ethnic minority, according to Pew Research Center. What’s more, one in four US adults—or 61 million Americans—has a disability that impacts major life activities, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Yet despite this heterogeneity, many argue that more can be done to promote equality and ensure just representation within our nation, as evidenced by recent Black Lives Matter movements plus continued efforts to support people with disabilities. The same holds true for advertisers, who are uniquely positioned to not only mirror society but also effect change. In fact, a recent NewsCred study found that 91 percent of marketers believe there’s room for improvement when it comes to showcasing diversity in campaigns. We look at how some brands are working to understand their own unconscious bias and promote inclusion, plus the demographics clamoring for this shift.

Diversity and Demographics
It’s clear that equity matters to consumers. According to Marketing Charts research, 62 percent of customers say a brand’s diversity directly impacts the way they feel about its products and services. Nearly four in 10 feel more trust toward brands with diverse advertising, while 34 percent will actually boycott a brand that doesn’t accurately reflect their identity. This paradigm rings especially true for millennials and Gen Z consumers, who demand more diverse messages and media portrayals than previous generations. “Millennials and Gen Z audiences are bombarded with content clutter and noise, especially on social media,” said Scott Thwaites, head of emerging markets at TikTok. “This is why it’s essential for businesses to get it right, by sharing authentic and meaningful messages that make consumers stop and look. It is particularly relevant when it comes to inclusivity and supporting a cause.” Findings from a 2021 study conducted by consumer research group Quantilope further revealed that Gen Z wants to see more disabled individuals represented in media, and that this cohort prefers marketing messages showing real people genuinely interacting in authentic ways, as opposed to idealized situations. “The brands that are rising to the top are consistently making important issues a priority, either in their communications or in the content they produce on the platforms that matter,” said Thwaites.

Black Businesses Matter
August is National Black Business Month, designated in 2004 as a time to support and celebrate the roughly 2.6 million Black-owned business nationwide. It also presents an opportunity to reflect on the disadvantages facing many minority-owned operations, which became more pronounced in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and ensuing economic recession that disproportionately affected businesses run by Black or Hispanic owners. While some brands chose to launch specific National Black Business Month initiatives, others pursued efforts in support of other diverse causes.

Pepsi kicked off its “You Have to Taste This” campaign on August 18, featuring celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson in conversation with chefs at Black-owned restaurants throughout the South. Each one-to-two-minute video episode aims to uncover the rich culinary history behind those dining establishments while touching on the diaspora of Black cuisine throughout America. Episodes in the docuseries will premiere weekly on Pepsi’s “Dig In” platform and social channels, in a move meant to help consumers get intimately acquainted with the subjects being portrayed and help convey a feeling of authenticity. That serves as part of PespiCo’s larger plan to spend $400 million over the next five years in aid of the Black community, including outreach to help Black-owned businesses drum up $100 million within that time.

From soda to alcohol, Bacardi announced that it will auction its first non-fungible token (NFT) to coincide with the September 1 release of its limited-edition Reserva Ocha Sherry Cask Finish rum. As one-of-a-kind collectible items developed by blockchain technology (that makes each product inherently unable to be modified), NFTs have attracted recent art-world attention—one sold at Christie’s for $69 million in March. Pairing an NFT with its new premium rum is meant to excite Bacardi bidders ahead of auction day, as proceeds will benefit “Backing the B.A.R.,” an initiative co-sponsored with the NAACP to help Black-owned businesses get liquor licenses.

Addressing Disabilities
New Nielsen research reveals a disheartening statistic: While 26 percent of people in the United States are disabled in some way, only one percent of TV ads show those individuals, based on figures compiled from analyzing over 450,000 prime time ads that appeared on broadcast and cable TV in February. Still, the forecast isn’t entirely gloomy. Marketing to people with disabilities is becoming more ubiquitous and authentic. Unilever recently won a Cannes Lions Innovation Grand Prix for its Degree Inclusive deodorant designed with a hooked lid, magnetic closures and Braille instructions for users with visual and upper-limb motor impairments. Schick’s “Content for All” campaign launched in June, featuring blind YouTube creator Molly Burke describing why the woman’s razor with built-in shave gel helps blind or low-vision people shave better. Finally, Ben’s Original debuted its first marketing initiative following its rebrand from Uncle Ben’s last September. The “Everyone’s Original” campaign features ads premiering on TV, digital, social, and video-on-demand platforms, portraying six real families from diverse backgrounds as they make unique dishes with bags of Ben’s Original jasmine rice. Among a Black family, multigenerational Pakistani family and single-parent home is a family who uses sign language to communicate. “Advertisers have the opportunity to showcase people with disabilities in everyday life, engaging with the products and services brands offer,” wrote Nielsen in a recent blog post.

From addressing racial inequity to becoming more inclusive when it comes to representation of disabled individuals, marketers have a unique opportunity to create meaningful campaigns. Diversity shouldn’t be pursued as a token act, but rather an endeavor with authentic purpose.

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