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Why the modern marketer must embrace diversity, in all its forms.

Aug 1, 2017
Why the modern marketer must embrace diversity, in all its forms.

Gone are the days when marketing was the preserve of white, middle class men in stylish offices on Madison Avenue, with progress made in the field of gender, ethnic and social inclusion. This applies both to the field of marketing within the context of the office and behind-the-scenes institutions, but also in the content that agencies and in-house teams create. 

Of course, these two facets of the discussion go hand in hand. Diverse teams build diverse campaigns, and diverse campaigns spread a message of inclusivity and perpetual improvement. The job will never be complete, but here are three debates making waves in marketing which continue to push the diversity agenda.

The new Ken and promoting positive body image

Recently here at OTB we wrote about the concept of marketing to men, and discussed how stereotypes and a lack of awareness about the impact of unattainable body images in marketing can have a detrimental effect on men, as well as women.

This notion of positive representation came to light once again with the announcement by Mattel that Barbie’s male counterpart Ken was ‘getting a makeover.’ Far from only being tabloid news, many publishers have picked up on the significance of this new direction for the industry and hailed the move as a positive step in the right direction for marketers.

Time Magazine reported that only a year after Barbie herself was given a more realistic makeover by the brand, the decision to bring out Ken with multiple body types, hair styles and skin tones demonstrates that rather than continuing to play ‘arm candy to his girlfriend, […] part of changing Ken’s appearance is an attempt by Mattel to make him almost as interesting as Barbie.’

The message underlying Mattel’s move is an important one: if brands are to continue to thrive, they simply have to respond to the consumer demand for diversity. With sales falling due to millennial parents effectively boycotting the brand because of its unrealistic representations, Mattel took time to reflect, re-assessed, and spent several years carefully crafting a new strategy to embrace the calls for diversity. Many brands could learn from this approach, as the future of diverse marketing only looks set to continue.

Understand cultural hybridity

One of the mistakes marketers often make when it comes to diversity is that of pigeon-holing. This applies particularly to ethnic minorities, who are often lumped together in one ‘ethnic minority’ group in a catch-them-all kind of approach that ignores cultural and linguistic differences. It is entirely possible that this mistake stems from the marketing industry’s current emphasis on audience segmentation, in which it is believed that by dividing consumers based on their demographic and cultural makeup we are better able to target campaigns to a given group of people.

One way to tackle this presumed assumption and create a more nuanced approach to diversity marketing is to adopt the idea of cultural-hybridity. Forbes contributor Shama Hyder argues that while the desire for marketers to connect with the minority market, as a growing section of consumers, is understandable, ‘to connect with these rising demographics requires a strategy with nuance.’

Hyder sees cultural-hybridity as one way in which this can be tackled, as it better recognises the non-linear and non-binary elements of identity common in those people with multiple cultures, languages and contexts. While this may not fit neatly into the boxes marketers like to play with, taking a little extra time to consider the language, both metaphorical and functional, that we use to connect with our diverse societies is an important step in the right direction.

Diversity is not a passing trend 

Far from being another box ticking exercise or quick-passing marketing trend that will fade with time, diversity is something that is here to stay and must be tackled head on.

This is the argument made by publishing industry magazine The Bookseller, in which author Nikesh Shukla argued that publishing houses and the media industry at large often make the mistake of thinking that a token diverse team member or idea is enough to label your organisation “inclusive”. Like Hyder, Shukla notes from his own experiences that:

‘Diversity is not 'so hot right now'. It's not on trend. If this current moment we are having of seeing unrepresented people getting published goes away next week, I’ll still be brown.’ 

Making the cultural shift necessary to engage with these discussions for the long term is both desirable and necessary if the marketing industry is to keep up with the wider trends of a society it proclaims to represent. Through acknowledging that diversity itself comes in many forms, we can continue to move in the right direction.


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