It’s no secret that mainstream media has had a long-standing struggle with diverse representation and inclusion. Like many other socially accepted norms and systems, American advertising has mostly been tailored to appease the straight, white, male-led suburban household. And while there have been small strides forward in the creative world, many diverse ads are still considered the exception, the outlier.
In 2021, however, we still hope. Thanks to major social justice initiatives in recent years, ad agencies are striving to properly and accurately portray people from all racial and cultural backgrounds, being mindful and aware of society’s ever-changing normalization of narratives or lifestyle choices that were once considered taboo.
From dialogue, to tone, to messaging, to casting, these six print ads, social media campaigns, and TV commercials demonstrate that showcasing true diversity is necessary for us to continue pushing the dial forward to our consumer base.
Noxzema “My Black Is Beautiful”
As African-American marketers continued to collaborate with popular brands mostly owned and led by the white establishment, an advertising method of “positive realism” started floating around as early as 1961, thanks to Tom Burrell, as a way to target communities of color without being intentionally discriminatory or stereotypical. In print ads like this one featured by Noxzema in 1969, we see messaging that highlights the beauty of Black women while encouraging everyone to try their face wash in order to aspire to the “perfect skin” of the models featured in their campaign.
With Coca-Cola’s ads like “Boys on a Bench,” a consistently honest approach to these often avoided topics is something that’s made the brand synonymous with pop culture.
Coca-Cola “Boys on a Bench”
Coca-Cola’s Chairman and CEO, Robert Woodruff, gave the bold greenlight on a 1970s print ad for the legacy brand to encourage togetherness and inclusion after the tragic assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Detroit race riots. The ad features a group of Black and white boys sitting together on a segregated bench, laughing, touching shoulders, and enjoying a Coke–something that hadn’t been seen or done before on a national scale. The photo, shot by Jay Maisel in 1969, sets a powerful tone for togetherness and unity regardless of race. Coca-Cola’s consistently honest approach to these often avoided but profound topics is something that’s made the brand synonymous with American pop culture.
P&G/BBDO New York “My Black Is Beautiful”
What started as a straightforward ode to Black women’s beauty in 2006 with the help of BBDO New York, Procter & Gamble has flourished in addressing racial biases season after season with their “My Black Is Beautiful” campaign. Alongside Egami Consulting Group for creative development, the campaign reflected real-life conversations and experiences between Black women and children that consumers of mass media had not yet seen before on a national scale. Backed by bravery and poignance, each installment features an individual unveiling their personal truths as a person of color in a world that often forgets them. For the campaign, P&G chose not to display any of its products, adding dignified sensitivity to an already powerful proclamation.
Backed by bravery and poignance, each installment of P&G’s “My Black is Beautiful” series features someone unveiling their personal truths as a person of color in a world that often forgets them.
Airbnb “Community Commitment”
In 2016 the world’s most popular online lodging marketplace decided to run a marketing campaign called “Community Commitment” to let everyone know how welcome and accepted they are when they book a room or home through the company’s app. Airbnb’s video message answered the “why” behind its platform’s coveted “Accept” step, emphasizing the importance of their promise to provide a safe space for everyone within their hosting and renting community, no matter a person’s race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, gender, identity, or age. This video and email marketing push served as a necessary stepping stone in response to criticisms faced by individuals questioning and experiencing discrimination while using the app to book an Airbnb property.
The Telegraph “Words Chosen Well”
It had been 10 years of quiet on the ad campaign side of things for London-based newspaper The Telegraph until its first major brand campaign, “Words chosen well” launched in 2017. Using simplistic typography over iconic images and videos, including Muhammad Ali and MLK’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, the publisher utilized historical word choices for various scenes. In this way, it identified the need for proper word analysis as a way of holding itself accountable for delivering nothing less than the truth to its readers.
Adidas “Calling All Creators”
Known for being a boundary-pushing shoe-and-apparel line that goes beyond the fashion and integrates itself into meaningful conversations, Adidas launched its “Calling All Creators” campaign in collaboration with 72andSunny. An open-table discussion led by famous athletes, musical artists, and fashion creatives, the ad campaign aims at empowering people to unite in shared passions and create together in order to further break boundaries and shape culture. Well-known faces like Pharrell Williams, David Beckham, and James Harden come together in a single conversation in the hope of pushing innovation forward in creators around the world, no matter their ethnic background, interests, or experience.
Throughout the decades these six brands have shown us how to adopt an inclusive mindset while building consumer trust for all audience members.
The Bottom Line
From network TV commercials to social media posts to print ads, there’s no denying that consumers want to see themselves represented by the brands they support. Diverse ad representation that includes all people can only help businesses, organizations, and brands further expand their reach, eventually building a trust that drives sales. These are the things that pop culture doesn’t forget. Betting on a niche strategy that goes mainstream is the big bonus that some brands miss out on because of limited, narrowed thinking backed by divisiveness rather than focusing on togetherness.
Throughout the decades these six brands have shown us how to adopt an inclusive mindset while building consumer trust for all audience members. Without forgoing their own brand positioning, showcasing true diversity in ad campaigns is the ultimate win-win strategy, leading to an overall better consumer perception, and in turn, generating more lucrative business.