Are brands using Inclusive Marketing just for virality?

20 Apr,2021


By Bhuvi Gupta


Bhuvi GuptaThe Bhima Jewelers ad. The Kalyan Jewelers ad starring Katrina Kaif and Amitabh Bachhan. The Myntra Anouk ad from 2015. Geeli Puchhi, from the Ajeeb Daastaans anthology released on Netflix.


What do these all have in common?


Other than the six-year-old Myntra ad, they all released last week and focus on inclusion and diversity as their central themes. Some sparked conversation and high appreciation, the Kalyan Jewelers ad, which touched upon inter-cultural marriage (though very lightly) focused more on the stars rather than the story was a lost opportunity. I wonder whether the inter-cultural theme was touched upon lightly to avoid a furor similar to the one caused by the withdrawn Tanishq ad


In the last few years, Inclusive Marketing has become quite common (and hallelujah for that). Unilever’s Dove really started the trend with the Real Beauty Ad campaign in 2004, but for long, Dove was the lone ranger with other major brands peddling narratives focused on the rich and beautiful. This despite the fact that their target audience was not always rich but aspiration rather than acceptance was the calling card. In the last few years, facilitated by the interwebs that the masses have gained exposure to, progressive ideas and conversations around inclusiveness have become mainstream. This has helped to both start and sustain many a cultural revolution while also becoming a part of many brand narratives.


Inclusive Marketing will continue to catch on as more people become conscious of their biases, and are willing to pay a premium to overcome past prejudices. Brands will play to the gallery, because it is good for business however, in the race for the revenue is where many narratives fumble.


Inclusive marketing as defined by Salesforce is the creation of content that truly reflects the diverse communities that they serve. This means, they make a concerted effort in elevating diverse voices and role models, decreasing cultural bias, and leading positive social change through thoughtful and respectful content.

Their six principles of inclusiveness in communication cover the gamut of what inclusive marketing should cover


Inclusive marketing principles as defined by Salesforce

Start with Tone, & Be Intentional with Language

Both tone and language form a crucial part of inclusive communication. While language most brands are cognizant of ensuring that the tone is respectful is as important.


Avoid Appropriation


Many pieces of communication made on marginalised communities miss nuance as there is only so much that research can do. Hence, ensuring that the narrative is written or whetted by people from the community is key to an authentic narrative.


Ensure Representation

Marginalised communities anyways have limited opportunity; hence the cast should be as close ethnically to the character as possible. A good example from cinema is the stories told by Dalit film -aker Neeraj Ghaywan who made Masaan and recently the most acclaimed short of the Netflix anthology Ajeeb Daastaans, Geeli Puchhi. Being from the community, Ghaywan’s stories have authenticity about caste and privilege unlike other narratives, because he understands the depth of the issue.


Consider Context & Counter Stereotype

The truth is that brands are putting forward messages about inclusion and acceptance because the audience relates. Advertising has relied on clichés and stereotypes for far too long and evolving audiences are finally allowing brands to showcase storylines, which break the glass ceiling. Brands should embrace this and stop showing a fat woman as the sidekick friend or a male boss with women subordinates. This gem from Heineken, which truly speaks to not let perception drive functioning, elucidates this point well.


Inclusivity can help brands connect on a deeper, more meaningful level with their audiences — which can be a major asset to marketing campaigns.


In a country like India where the landscape, language culture changes every 100 kilometers, inclusivity and acceptance become all the more important because even the most privileged Indians feel marginalised in multiple ways – the colour of their skin, height, weight, hometown, knowledge of English and umpteen others.


I can’t tell you the joy I feel when I land up on a ecommerce website only to see models with real proportions (and I am not even plus-sized)


However, it is imperative that inclusive marketing is not used as a crutch to prop up marketing communication, because audiences are smart. As Salesforce’s principles entail being inclusive without being representative is commercial, and audiences see through the charade, which end up being counter-productive.


Beyond just a focus on bottom-line and hopes for virality, companies should ensure they are inclusive inside the company by applying these principles to HR and recruitment policies, and in their day to day functioning.


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