What It Looks Like To Take A Stand: Top 2021 Inclusive Marketing Moments

Brands like Mastercard, Lyft, PepsiCo and Budweiser made ads to make a difference

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The launch of Dove’s iconic “Real Beauty” campaign in 2004 marked the first time I had ever seen a body that looked like mine celebrated on television. With what was then considered a bold move, Dove gained a place in my heart and in my Target cart for life by offering something money can’t buy–a greater sense of comfort and belonging in the world. Years later, an exponentially growing category of inclusive brands like Fenty Beauty and Good American continue to make billions following suit.

While the principles behind Dove’s success haven’t changed, there’s never been more opportunity to make the most of them. But even in a world where consumers across identities are 4 times more likely to trust brands that take a stand, the power of truly inclusive marketing is too often passed over. Instead, brands favor siloed multicultural marketing efforts that slice and dice us into segments and fail to bring us all together, or worse, attempts to check the box with surface-level visual representation in creative.

However, 2021’s most-successful inclusive marketing moments reach for more by ambitiously addressing systemic inequities in ways that simultaneously deliver outsized business results. They show us what it looks like to embrace the reality that multiculturalism is mainstream, and a more equitable future is on all of us to create. If you’re nodding your head but still not sure what to do next, start with the three simple rules guiding the brands getting it right just by keeping it real.

Solve real problems

As we learned from last year’s black square-mageddon, well-meaning expressions of solidarity are no substitute for tangible solutions. With True Name, Mastercard masterfully showed up for the transgender community while shedding light on an overlooked indignity many are facing simply for being who they are.

Celebration does not connote elevation.

—John Graham

When Lyft partnered with CVS to offer free rides to Covid-19 vaccine appointments for those in need, they provided a service that made a powerful emotional connection with everyone, as did Dove’s partnership with Phenomenal championing the CROWN Act did the same for Black women facing race-based hair discrimination.

There’s no shortage of real problems for brands to solve. Addressing them in ways that also support business goals naturally aligns with the very thing brand leaders have always been striving for: the ongoing alignment of purpose and profit.

Create real opportunities

Sephora’s campaign featuring “the best of Black-owned beauty for everyone” is one of the year’s most powerful examples of authentic allyship as an effective revenue strategy. Closing systemic opportunity gaps requires bold corrective action, not just acknowledgment. As John Graham writes in Plantation Theory: The Black Professionals Struggle Between Freedom & Security, “celebration does not connote elevation.”

From PepsiCo’s Dig In Initiative to Budweiser’s Brewing Change, marketers are uniquely positioned to take advantage of the proven business case for DEI by using their power to address systemic inequities in ways that authentically honor a brand’s purpose.

Face your real history

By committing to make banking more accessible to Black communities and acknowledging systemic injustices plaguing the financial services industry to this day, Citi’s Action For Racial Equity Initiative brilliantly exemplifies what it looks like to champion inclusivity from a place of open accountability. From long overdue rebranding efforts to boldly shifting outdated narratives in favor of a more inclusive reality, the opportunity to cultivate a tangible sense of belonging that changes how people see and experience the world starts with facing the truth.

The pancake and syrup brand formerly known as Aunt Jemima rebranded as the Pearl Milling Company earlier this year and was developed with inclusivity in mind.Adweek

Know your real power

As Andrew Winston and Paul Polman write in Net Positive: How Courageous Companies Thrive By Giving More Than They Take, the time for “business taking a prominent role in solving our shared challenges instead of contributing to them” is now. Brand leaders who embrace their opportunity to address systemic inequities with marketing will increasingly outshine those who falsely perceive their power as a burden.