Diversity in Advertising: Should Practitioners Join the Conversation?

March 20, 2019

Leaders in multicultural marketing and law discussed the role of legal practitioners on matters of diversity and inclusion via an in-depth look at several case studies in advertising. Covering topics from identifying cautionary flags to proactively developing escalation processes, this thought-provoking discussion aimed to increase consciousness about the way practitioners support business leaders in a continually diversifying marketplace.

If an advertisement doesn’t speak to a diverse group of people, then it’s not working. Building brand awareness among a wide audience takes time, care, and empathy; connection between a brand and consumer needs to be authentic and reflect the beliefs of a nuanced and multicultural audience. Considering 43 percent of the 75 million Americans in the U.S. identify as a person of color — and currently, 100 percent of population growth in the U.S. is driven by multicultural segments — diverse marketing is important. By 2020, more than 50 percent of teens will be multicultural, and by 2050, Caucasians will comprise less than 50 percent of the population.

To market successfully, and speak to a growing demographic, brands need to understand how they can support consumers and manage culturally sensitive campaigns. As the panel pointed out, Norman Douglas, an iconic British writer, stated that “you can tell the ideals of a nation by its advertisements.”

Define diversity for your team. Consider things that are not visible tangibly, such as culture, education, physical abilities, marital status, sexual preferences, values, and geographic location to understand a consumer’s point of view, and write personas for these demographics. When reviewing a project, make sure to consider and respect all aspects of diversity. Establish corporate policies and determine what the company’s stance will be surrounding diversity in advertising and marketing. In addition, it’s crucial to train internal teams on what diversity means and how the company’s products and branding reflect this.

It is just as important for teams to realize that a company’s actions, including its advertisements and promotions, can be a source of negative backlash if those advertisements and promotions are not respectful of various audiences, racial stereotypes, and cultural appropriation. The panelists stressed how marketers need to understand how to think past their intentions to possible external perceptions related to the advertisement and promotion. Stereotyping still exists, as people replicate what they’re used to, but inclusive advertising can gradually change this for the better.

Establish a review and escalation process. Part of the review process should include your internal teams’ understanding of the effect of the advertisement on both the target audiences and any other collateral audiences. Determine who internally should review advertisements and promotions that may have an impact from a diversity perspective to simplify the process.

When something could affect diverse audiences, make sure that decisions are escalated internally as necessary; having an open-door policy with your marketing partners can help address any concerns regarding both diversity and the company’s advertisements.

Case studies:


In 2017, Dove created a commercial for its body lotion products intended to promote diversity that ultimately did more harm than good by sending a tone-deaf message. The company, which aligns itself as pro-women and focuses on giving women a voice to define beauty and define themselves as beautiful, created a video ad that portrayed a black woman turning into a white woman. The timing and editing of the video played a large role in this perception, illustrating that intention isn’t enough, but strategizing how to make the message clear is the key to success. Mistakes like this can be prevented by having a diverse team to begin with.

Victoria’s Secret

In a 2018 interview with Vogue, CMO Ed Razek made comments about not wanting to include plus-size and trans models in the company’s fashion show, which caused massive backlash. While the comments didn’t pertain to an ad itself, what a company chooses to represent and the opinions it shares is are just as significant. As a company that claims to support women, it’s important to support all women, not just a certain group.

Burger King

In 2014, Burger King introduced the “Proud Whopper.” For the Pride Parade that year, customers bought the standard Whopper which it was packaged in rainbow-colored wrappers. The taste itself was the same, which stressed the company’s message: “We Are All the Same Inside.” The campaign also allowed the company’s new “Be Your Way” tagline to promote true equality, identity, and self-expression. Unlike Dove or Victoria’s Secret, Burger King was successful at creating a diverse and inclusive campaign with a simple wrapper.

CLE Materials


"Diversity in Advertising: Should Practitioners Join the Conversation?" Eugenia Blackmon, Director of U.S. Commercial Compliance and Project Moonwalker at Allergan; Shantel Smart, Senior Corporate Counsel of Global Contracts at Subway; Deidre Richardson, Senior Director of Corporate Counsel at Chico's FAS; Monique Nelson, CEO at UniWorld Group; Amy Ralph Mudge, Partner at BakerHostetler. ANA Advertising Law & Public Policy Conference, 3/20/19.

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