The Inclusion Imperative: What Brands Can Learn From The Dove Ad Debacle

As I reviewed social media last night as I often do on Sundays after a weekend away from the digital world, I was in disbelief to see yet another big brand miss the mark when it comes to marketing their products in an inclusive way. That’s why I want to talk about the inclusion imperative to create better business practices that it’s so often overlooked and has cost brands millions of dollars as well as the credibility, respect, and loyalty of consumers.

The first thing that comes to mind when we see cases like this is to believe the team behind the failed Ad wasn’t diverse and that’s why no one was able to identify the problems with such ad. In reality, more often than not there are diverse voices in the teams and in many cases, those voices have been speaking out and saying [even wanting to scream it] why an approach misses the mark, is offensive or completely wrong. The reality is that when companies don’t see the inclusion imperative as a part of their company culture, minority voices are often silenced or ignored.

I have been present in one too many marketing meetings to know that even with diverse teams, if the voices of minorities are not taken into consideration, even if after rounds and rounds of corrections, we see the piece coming back with the same issues we’ve been pointing out from the beginning, it becomes draining and demoralizing for team members. At the end of the day, the decision makers can choose to include or ignore the feedback and a diverse team quickly becomes a smaller group of think alike + look alike individuals who lack the nuance needed to be truly inclusive.

The inclusion imperative in marketing or ‘inclusion marketing’ approach comes from the premise that no matter who you are, what your beliefs are, your gender identity, race, ethnicity or level of physical or mental ability we all have something in common: we are all consumers! As such, brands cannot afford to simply stop at hiring a multicultural agency or having a diverse team within their company, the inclusion imperative has to be embedded in the company’s culture and credo, so when decisions are made, the input and strength of the diverse team are shown.

The Inclusion Imperative: It Takes A Village

As cliché as the above phrase sounds, it truly takes a village to be inclusive, it requires courage to face difficult questions, challenge old paradigms and allow creatives to develop their work under the umbrella of inclusion. There are countless studies that support the inclusion imperative that demonstrate how implementing diversity and inclusion to go hand in hand and doing so in an effective way is a win-win for companies.

Because we are all consumers and we share the human experience in our own, unique ways, it is important that the values of the brands we support speak to those unique experiences as well as to the common threads that connect us. For those of us who believe in diversity and inclusion, it can often be frustrating to see Ads like Dove’s or many others that we’ve seen in the past because we know how much work is behind creating a marketing concept.

Why are we still having these conversations? I think the key is the lack of inclusion, even when there are diverse voices in the teams. Because we are in 2017 it is not enough to say ‘we didn’t know’ ‘we are sorry’, it is time for brands to go to the root of the problem, to examine what drives their promotional efforts and where is inclusion needed to change the outcomes moving forward.

There is no silver bullet. Yet, there is a path that if taken will lead to different results. With the majority of the purchasing power clearly in the hands of black and brown folks, and these same folks being among the youngest of the US population, I think we are beyond the need we have for brands to do the right thing. It is a business imperative for them, to evolve, be inclusive or become irrelevant in the coming decades.

What do you think brands can do to be inclusive in their efforts?

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© Dania Santana ~ Embracing Diversity
Multiculturalism, Diversity & Inclusion Expert | Author | Speaker
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