They’re a stunning family. Young, beautiful, elated. One of his arms is wrapped around her waist, the other is grasping their child. Everyone is smiling.
And yet, when this photo hit Twitter in early May, the backlash was immediate.
Why? Because the mother is black, the father is white, and their son is biracial.
This joyous image, which Old Navy used to advertise a 30% off sale on Twitter, set off an avalanche of racist responses.
I watched this unfold live, my Twitter feed muddied with hateful sentiments from people who still believe that interracial relationships are the work of Satan. I continued to watch as those voices were drowned out by positive Tweets featuring inspirational messages, photos of people’s interracial families, and the hashtag #LoveWins.
The response to the ad was covered by major news outlets and websites. Old Navy issued a short statement acknowledging their pride in championing diversity and inclusion.
This ad, and the conversation it fostered, is the power of what I call Inclusive Marketing.
Inclusive Marketing strives to create a visual culture that is more representative. It endeavors to appreciate and understand our various identities, differences and histories while also illuminating places of commonality. Inclusive Marketers are willing to cultivate the skillset required to market to specific demographics without relying on stereotypes. Inclusive Marketing takes a progressive stand on issues of social justice.
Inclusion is different than diversity. Diversity has become an empty term in most organizations, often denoting little more than the checking of boxes and meeting of quotas. It depends on making one group—say men, or white people—the default and everyone else the other. Conversely, inclusion speaks to the quality of experience, where multiple perspectives are sought out and treated equitably.
Inclusive marketers understand that their job is to consider the impact of their advertisements, not just the intent. If I accidentally drop a mug of hot coffee on your bare foot, your throbbing, scalded foot doesn’t care that I didn’t mean to hurt it. Likewise, the fact that you didn’t mean to offend anyone with your ad, your copy, or your all-male panel doesn’t lessen the impact it has on the people it misrepresents, excludes, or is hostile toward.
A great example of this impact-related blindness occurred last August. Facebook, in an attempt to celebrate women’s suffrage in the United States, ran a celebratory graphic featuring women of various racial backgrounds and a banner that said: “On Aug. 26, 1920, women achieved the right to vote in the U.S.” I can imagine the team meeting where this idea was pitched: Everyone agrees that it’s perfect—diverse and pro-woman! What could possibly go wrong? Well … not all women got the right to vote in 1920. Only white women. The well-intended graphic sparked a lot of frustration on social media, with conversation centered on how revisionist and inaccurate the graphic felt, and much exasperation over Facebook’s inability to do their homework.
Marketers working to promote the latest X-Men film probably didn’t give a single thought to the impact of billboards featuring mega-star Jennifer Lawrence being strangled by a male co-star. But the ad caused a firestorm after actress and director Rose McGowan wrote, “There is a major problem when the men and women at 20th Century Fox think casual violence against women is the way to market a film. There is no context in the ad, just a woman getting strangled. The fact that no one flagged this is offensive and frankly, stupid.” Fox apologized, and promised to stop using the image in print.
The business case for Inclusive Marketing is simple—it bolsters the bottom line. Look at the incredible success of Mattel, which finally incorporated the feedback they’ve been getting for years and launched a line of Barbies representing different races and body shapes. (The Ava DuVernay Barbie sold out in 20 minutes!) And thanks to that Old Navy ad, I stepped foot in one of their stores for the first time in more than five years.
From a business perspective, Inclusive Marketing is going to become increasingly important because the backlash to sexist, racist, ableist, classist, homophobic, and trans-phobic material is going to get louder and louder. As it should. If you’re unwilling to learn, consult experts, and think inclusively about your audience, you’re going to spend far more on damage control than you would on the professional and personal development you need to become inclusive.
Plus, when you fail to employ an Inclusive Marketing perspective, you miss out on opportunities—just ask Red Lobster.
Beyoncé’s single “Formation”—released just prior to the Super Bowl, where she performed it during halftime—favorably mentions the chain several times. Overlooking the considerable cachet of Beyoncé, Red Lobster took over eight hours to respond to the song on social—and their tepid response left much to be desired. They squandered this golden opportunity because, as Michell C. Clark pointed out on Twitter, “they don’t have social media managers that understand their audience.”
So, how can you become more inclusive in your work? Here are five ideas to get you started:
-Start with yourself. We all possess identities that inform the work we do. How does who you are impact how you see the world? Do you have assumptions that you take as truths? How might these assumptions or biases come through in your work?
-Scroll through your IG, Twitter, and FB feeds. How many faces of color do you see? How about posts regarding LGTBQ or disability issues? How many news sources do you follow that are centered on the experience of people different than you?
-Give every piece of marketing material a clean read. Meaning, look at it as though you have little to no context. In plain language describe what you see.
-Does your company have a Chief Diversity Officer, or the equivalent? Reach out to them, develop a working relationship, inquire about the trainings they offer, and consider bringing them into marketing meetings when appropriate.
-Remember the difference between diversity and inclusion, and intent vs. impact.
Want to learn more about Inclusive Marketing? Interested in a workshop or help designing your Inclusive Marketing strategy? You can connect with Jessica Fish, Senior Strategist at Leader Networks, here.
This article originally appeared on Forbes.