In diversity, there is brand strength
In recent weeks, two brands came under attack for what consumers perceive as a strong prejudice against women and their appearance. Japanese camera brand Canon launched a campaign that exclusively featured male photographers as key opinion leaders and was thus deemed by consumers as misogynistic. The Belo Medical group’s “pandemic effect” campaign, on the other hand, showed a slender, pretty lady slowly turning obese, hairy and unrecognizable because of the pandemic. The Belo ad was deemed unacceptable, insensitive and offensive by “netizens” and was subsequently taken down with The Belo Medical Group issuing an apology.
Heightened awareness diversity and inclusiveness are two big words that have gained traction among recent generations. Diversity means recognizing individual differences across a broad spectrum of gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, status, age, physical and mental abilities, religious beliefs, ideologies, socioeconomic status, etc. Inclusiveness is the mindset and act of embracing all forms of diversity.
At the recent I am Woman WOMENar Learning Series where this writer was asked to speak, it was said that millennial and Gen Zs have raised much awareness about diversity and inclusiveness.
These two generational cohorts have considerable purchasing power and they have the potential to influence people around them to say “No” to being judgmental and be more tolerant and embrace differences.
Inclusive branding again, not all products and services with a name can be automatically considered brands.
Kevin Lane Keller, a widely known guru of strategic brand management, maintains that commodities become brands only when they begin having strong, unique and favorable brand associations with consumers.
This writer posits that when products and services evolve from being just a commodity to a brand, they now have more leverage, flexibility and reputation that can lead them to become an inclusive brand, if they choose.
Inclusive brands, as presented by this writer at the conference, leverage on the brand’s messaging, associations, cult followers, technology, process so that consumers of diverse races, ages, genders, sexual orientations, classes, religions, physical and mental abilities, ethnicities, relationships, cultures and appearances are drawn to deeply connect and fully experience the brand.
Dimensions of diversity
Diversity of relationships. Single parent families, same sex parents, blended families, interracial families, nonbiological families, are some examples of this diversity. Sixty-year-old high street fashion, River Island, originating from England, launched a brand campaign back in 2019 with #Thisisfamily.
The advertisement featured same-sex parent families and multiracial families breaking traditional nuclear family images.
Diversity of gender. The gender divide has led to society categorizing certain behaviors as masculine and feminine, heightening women and men’s physical differences. For example, gender stereotypes include women being solely relegated to the home while men are expected to become the family provider.
Today, brand campaigns that raise public consciousness about gender equality are becoming widely acknowledged. Women are encouraged to work toward their full potential while there is a need to have more men supporting women rising. The Pampers #LovetheChange campaign first shown on Super Bowl’s online video stream, showed John Legend and Adam Levine, both American musicians, and a group of other dads with their infants singing happily while changing diapers or performing their daddy duty.
The advert stemmed from an insight that young fathers believe they are hands-on parents yet society has not recognized their contribution to parenting.
Diversity of physical and mental ability. Unbeknown to many, Nike, founded in 1964 by Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman, has always be an inclusive brand. Nike’s brand philosophy “so long as you have a body, you are an athlete” embraces inclusiveness and veers away from the stereotype definition of athletes as highly proficient in sports and physical exercise. Hence, Nike’s selling line “Just do it” is a complement to the brand philosophy.
Diversity of appearance. Dove’s real beauty campaign mounted in 2004 has shown how a sustained inclusive branding effort can help grow the brand. The campaign was meant to address the stereotype of what is beautiful and push the idea that true beauty is natural and comes from within, thus encouraging women to have more confidence and self-esteem.
Diversity of race and culture. Embracing people of different races, color, cultural differences and societal behavior is an ongoing challenge for many. An early proponent of inclusive branding that promotes racial equality is Coca-Cola. Back in 1971, or a half a century ago, Coca-Cola aired its Hilltop advert that brought together hundreds of children of different races and colors singing a unified melody that carried a hummable lyric “I’d like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company. It’s the real thing.”
Sixteen years later in 1987, a second Coca-Cola inclusive advert took the world stage. The advert, titled “Tomorrow’s People,” again brought children of different races together, including the Philippines’ renowned child singer then, Lilet, affirming love for the brand across the world with its selling line, “Coke is it.” These kids of 1987 belong to today’s millennial generation, who champion diversity.
How can brands become inclusive
Buy-in of the owners or board. Becoming an inclusive brand is no easy task. It is a sustainable mission to integrate a specific advocacy into a brand’s DNA so that loyal and potential consumers can associate a particular advocacy with the brand. Thus, owners of the brand must recognize that building an inclusive brand is never short term.
Align a specific cause of diversity with the brand equity. Building an inclusive brand is far easier if a product or service is by itself a brand and there are already positive, strong and familiar associations attached to it. This way, the added association of a diversity cause is simply an addition to the existing brand equity. Thus, it is very important that a particular diversity espoused by the brand must be congruent with the brand’s existing equity association.
Creative executions must only enhance the brand’s message of diversity and inclusiveness. Consumer backlash often happens when a creative execution overpowers the brand objective and messaging. Some marketers and creative people abide by the belief that all publicity, good or bad, is actually good for awareness. This is a misnomer because a true brand will only have strong, unique, favorable and positive associations. Negative associations erode the brand’s equity.
Rally the brand along one specific, sustainable diversity message. There are many aspects of diversity. There must be a cohesive alignment internally and externally and through time around one specific diversity advocacy message. There must be tangible, notable physical evidence around the brand, in the corporate headquarters, retail outlets and each consumer touch point, that supports the brand’s diversity message to become a strong inclusive brand.
The writer is Chief Brand Strategist of MKS Marketing Consulting and is an alumna of Oxford University’s SAID Graduate School of Business Strategic Leadership and Strategic Marketing Executive Education Program and Stanford Graduate School of Business Strategic Marketing Executive Education. De Asis is also an alumna of the Ateneo Graduate School of Business and a PhD graduate of the De La Salle Graduate School, Taft Campus. Reach the author who is also a member of the Global Strategic Consulting Network at [email protected]
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