Diversity in marcomms is more important than ever

Get woke or go broke, says MultiConnexions Group head of diversity and inclusion Katrina Hall.

Last weekend, the Academy Awards was held with unprecedented diversity in both nominees and winners. From China-born Chloé Zhao becoming the first woman of colour and second female ever to win an Oscar for Best Director, to Ugandan-ancestry actor Daniel Kaluuya and Korean actress Yuh-Jung Youn winning Best Supporting Actor awards, it was heartening to see Hollywood making positive steps to do better.

The emotion on display during the Oscars speeches drove home the importance of visibility and wins for the communities that diverse winners represent, and how inspiring it can be to watch for these audiences. But diversity and inclusion isn’t about feel-good box ticking – it makes real commercial sense.

A newly published University of California Los Angeles report found that diversity and inclusion appears to be just the ticket and precisely what cinema-going audiences are looking for. The report found that on average, films with between 41 to 50 per cent minority casts fared best at the box office, while films with less than 11% minorities fared worst. 

A separate Adobe survey bears this out in the marketing world, finding that a brand’s diversity impacts perception of its products or services for almost two-thirds of respondents. Furthermore, 58% of LGBTQ+ respondents said they had walked away from a brand for not representing them in its advertising. These are findings corroborated by MultiConnexions Group research.

Deloitte-owned Heat found that brands that show a broad variety of cultural and demographic groups in their advertising see improved perception among consumers and stock market gains, and brands with the highest diversity scores showed an 83% higher consumer preference.

In the ad world, several brands and organisations have proven clear winners in this space. Pop star Rihanna became a billionaire by tapping into an unmet need for products that suit diverse skin tones with makeup and skincare brand Fenty. In Australia, ANZ Bank won hearts and minds with its hugely successful, internationally acclaimed, and highly Instagram-able GAYTMs during Mardi Gras, along with its Lunar New Year themed ATMs. The Salvation Army Australia has carved out a leading reputation by continually engaging with multicultural audiences through grassroots and community led initiatives.

However, before a brand or organisation rushes in all guns blazing to splash their previously homogenous marcomms/ads with the representation that diversity and inclusion has to offer, look at the flip side of when diversity is done wrong.

Australian singer/songwriter Sia learned the hard way when good intentions were not enough to make her new film Music, a story about a 14-year-old non-verbal girl with severe autism, a success. Sia and the film have been lambasted by the public and media for not consulting enough with autistic individuals and for not giving the lead role to a neurotypical person. Unintentional racial and diversity mistakes from brands and organisations can go viral in today’s digital world, causing brand damage and lost revenue. The brand damage at times can lead to millions of dollars and is often irreparable. 

A one-size-fits-all approach is not appropriate for every audience. A recent outdoor ad urged people to check in on their friends’ mental health with a call to ‘grab a beer’… during Ramadan. Imagine telling a community celebrating the Holy Month to grab a beer! Or the dismay of the parents of a highly conservative Asian girl being urged to grab a beer and share her sorrows. It would cause these audiences to switch off at best.

Excuses for ignoring diversity and inclusion are ringing increasingly hollow. In previous decades it may have been seen as ‘a suggestion’ or ‘a nice to have’ that could be ignored with limited or no repercussions. But now things are different; it is a must-have for all. Diversity matters. Do it, but do it right.

Katrina Hall is the head of diversity and inclusion at MultiConnexions Group and DiversityTesting.com.au.


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