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News | Why Inclusive Advertising Is a Win-Win

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Why Inclusive Advertising Is a Win-Win

333 Views / News Story by Advert On Click / 9 September 2023
Why Inclusive Advertising Is a Win-Win

We want to feel seen, heard, understood—and our relationship to advertising is no different. We want to see ourselves represented, and this includes in the ads we see. If we see ourselves represented, we’re more likely to feel connected to an ad, making us more likely to make a purchase. This makes diversity in advertising a win-win.

Marc Mazodier (ESSEC Business School), Conor M. Henderson (Lundquist College of Business, University of Oregon), and Jamel Khenfer (Zayed University) explored this in recent research1, finding that minorities who view diverse ads report feeling more connected to the ad and that they are more interested in the advertised product. This means that brands who use diverse, inclusive ads can both contribute to a social cause and see results for their profit margin—an example of doing good while doing well.

We’re increasingly tuned in to the importance of paying attention to diversity and inclusion in policies, in workplace cultures, in hiring, and in business. The United Nations' 2030 Sustainable Development Goals has identified the importance of promoting the “social, economic and political inclusion of all irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status."2 It’s in the vested interest of businesses to do so: a recent report estimated that American purchasing power for non-white consumers has reached $4.9 trillion—close to the combined GDP of France and Italy3. Despite this, advertising tended to depict primarily white, heterosexual figures until recently4, meaning advertisers miss out on reaching a substantial segment of the market. This is a pity not only for the consumer, who doesn’t see themselves in the media, but also for the advertiser itself, due to the relevance of social proof in just how much an ad will sway our behavior.

We’ve all heard the saying, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” This is just one example of how social proof impacts our behavior, since we tend to modify our actions to fit in with the crowd. We tend to buy popular brands and products—we figure that these brands are a reliable choice and will go over well with those around us. If we buy soft drinks for a party, we’ll buy Coke. This is an example of brand leadership.

Inclusiveness in advertising, or integrated advertising, refers to the inclusion of individuals with different social identities and ethnic origins in advertising. People tend to be more likely to use products and support brands that they think represent a group to which they belong5. Consumers are also more likely to feel linked to society if they see ads featuring people who look like them, and millennials, in particular, appreciate inclusive advertising.6 If brands use inclusive advertising, they subtly imply that everyone belongs to society, boosting societal identification. Survey results from the U.S. and the U.K. both suggest that respondents from minority groups felt underrepresented in advertising7, 8. This advertising homogeneity can also lead people to feel like ads represent how society sees their group8.

Studying diversity in advertising
We conducted a series of studies to explore diversity and inclusion in advertising. In the first study, we analyzed a database of over 600,000 consumer brand ratings and U.S. census data. We found that those who identified as a minority and lived in racially diverse communities were less likely to want to purchase from mainstream brands.

In the second study, we delved deeper into the psyche of American consumers. We looked at perceptions of advertising inclusiveness—the level to which advertising includes a diverse demographic. When non-white consumers reported lower advertising inclusiveness, it predicted feeling less connected to American society, which itself predicted a decreased intention to purchase from mainstream brands. This effect was stronger among consumers from minority groups.

The third study looked at participants in the United Arab Emirates, comparing reactions to ads showing ethnically diverse models and ads showing ethnically homogenous models, finding a similar pattern to the American sample. When minority consumers saw inclusive ads, they felt more connected to society and more positive about mainstream brands. This suggests that more inclusive advertising could boost how individuals identify with society, since they would see themselves included in how mainstream media depicts the society in which they live, and that this increased inclusiveness makes people more likely to want to purchase from the brand in question.

With a world in flux, brands need to adapt to the needs of 21st-century consumers. They can do this by increasing diversity and including actors from myriad backgrounds in their advertising. This research suggests that minority consumers, especially, notice a lack of inclusiveness in advertising and that boosting inclusiveness can also boost their connection to society. Inclusive advertising makes these consumers feel more positive about the brand and more likely to want to purchase from them to reward their diversity and inclusion efforts. These findings indicate that inclusive, diverse advertising is a solution that can benefit both society and the company, addressing the needs of multiracial societies and emerging social identities. In short, it offers a way for companies to do good (promote societal cohesion) while doing well (increasing consumer loyalty and purchases). A true win-win.