Of Stereotypes and Half-Assed Marketing Gimmicks

Why Certain "Inclusive" Marketing Concepts Don't Reach Their Potential

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Jonathon Feit Jonathon Feit
The "study" upon which I am basing this post is by no means scientific. It's tiny in scale, was conducted exclusively by me, and leaves room for a variety of conclusions. Still, I think it's telling, and reveals a problem embedded in our several months-long crusade for media and marketing diversity. Therefore, it warrants discussion.

Over the past couple weeks, I've had the opportunity to discuss diversity in advertising with a number of women within the orbit of the business community (especially its academic side). Invariably, two campaigns came up in conversation: Unilever's "Real Women" campaign for Dove, and the Procter & Gamble's "My Black is Beautiful" campaign that has been so lengthily discussed in Ad Age and on this blog.

Some of these women were white; some were women of color. All had heard of the Dove campaign; none had heard of "My Black is Beautiful."

I thought to myself: "Well, that's a problem." Especially since we've made a big to-do about it.

It's certainly possible that these women were coincidentally not up-to-speed on the two brands' novel diversity marketing initiatives; or perhaps they weren't fans of the brands, and so ignored the promotions. But a key objective of inclusive marketing -- like, um, every kind of marketing -- is to attract new customers. If the campaign isn't getting effective play, it isn't really worth much -- even if it is groundbreaking in its conception.

That rock-and-a-hard-place quandary between effective marketing and diversity outreach got me thinking about another campaign I encountered while living in Manhattan a few years ago.

A rather infamous magazine ad salesman was helping to pioneer what has since been institutionalized as "experiential marketing." His client, Crown Royal Canadian Whiskey, wanted to reach the urban audience.

So the company decided to build a Crown Royal-themed barber shop in the middle of SoHo, just off the Houston Street subway stop.

Now, take a second...Does that seem just a tad bit "off" to anyone else? On one level insulting. On another, just plain risky. Consider how many stereotypes and mistakes are active here:
  1. If you're trying to reach the "urban " market, the whitewashed trendy hub of Manhattan tourism might not be the most effective venue.

  2. Just because there have been two movies called "Barbershop" starring a largely black cast, is there anything more solid than cliché upon which to base the idea that "urban" audiences (male OR female) congregate at the salon?

  3. Even if No. 2 proves true, are the same folks who are used to going to their neighborhood barber shop going to travel all the way to SoHo for a shave and a whiskey?

  4. And this is a biggie -- whose brilliant idea was it to pair alcohol, scissors and straight razors? Sweeney Todd? (Can we say "L-i-a-b-i-l-i-t-y"?)
I have no problem -- no, that's not true -- I have only a small problem with companies parsing their marketing strategies based on criteria like race, which should be meaningless, though we aren't quite there yet as a society.

Ideally, psychographics should carry monstrously more weight than demographics.

Moreover, if a marketing campaign aims to be inclusive, highlighting demographics is exactly the opposite of what needs to be done. "My Black is Beautiful" is a lovely concept. Except that it only talks to black women. And not all black women: it speaks to the black woman who likes to be identified as such. The black woman who doesn't harp on her skin color might be just as well reached by a neutral ad, and may even be turned off by a racially specific one.

Isn't the latter condition what we're trying to achieve?

Sure, marketers' jobs will become harder if subjective criteria like race and ethnicity are removed from the rubric, but then again, fewer audience silos also means fewer ads need to be produced -- ultimately one balances the other, with a net social good.

While the "Real Women" campaign speaks to women rather than men, a gender difference is one that (I think) rational people can accept as legitimate in certain types of marketing. Men and women, after all, really do have different needs.

At the end of the day, the Dove campaign may simply be more widely remembered because it invited everyone to participate in the trendsetting. Unilever hit the viral marketing jackpot: a pool of consumers so broadly defined as "women" is inherently conducive to buzzmaking even as it flattens the playing field -- an affirmative pursuit of inclusion.
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