The Case—and the Cries—for More Diverse Visual Content

Real representation and diversity are needed in marketing

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Between the Covid-19 crisis and the global spotlight on Black Lives Matter, brand content has found itself under the microscope. When the pandemic first hit, marketers had to adapt their content to continue providing valuable and relevant information without capitalizing on a serious, worldwide issue.

As the BLM movement permeated the broader public consciousness in response to recent acts of police brutality, brands again adjusted their content and strategy to respond appropriately. The pandemic opened the door to these conversations, but Black Lives Matter has made it clear that these changes can’t wait.

This much-needed shift spotlighted brands that were slow to adapt to consumer sentiment. And now, agencies like Wieden + Kennedy are taking firm stances on authenticity, inclusion and diversity in recent months. To echo the statement Twitter put out regarding the need for diverse content, this is not a fad or a moment.

The content creators in your community are the next generation of marketing talent.

An adaptable strategy is key for marketers even in normal times, but recent world events have highlighted outdated tactics and made room for more structural shifts in brand storytelling. These shifts aren’t only an opportunity to create a more efficient marketing machine, but also a more diverse one.

Shifting to a community model

There has been a major shift in content strategy for brands, moving to less “brand out” and more “community in” content. The pandemic has prioritized the need for community content and also the executive attention necessary to make sure this continues on through the global recovery and beyond in the brand’s plans for marketing.

With so many free social media platforms and high-quality phone cameras, anyone can be a content creator. As platforms like Instagram grew in popularity, everyone with a smartphone could feasibly call themselves a photographer. Now, it has made diverse content creation more accessible for everyone.

Real people are creating great content, and marketers are paying attention. Take the rise of TikTok, where influencers and everyday consumers are racking up millions of views and interactions as people turn to the platform for entertainment during isolation. By shifting to a more crowdsourced content model, creativity is becoming democratized, which opens the door for more diversity in marketing. For example, the Asian and African diasporas are two examples of communities that over-index on social media platforms but are underrepresented in media and marketing.

Creators are diverse; marketing should be, too

The cries for real representation and real diversity in marketing—not just in visuals but in marketing teams and leadership—are louder than ever. The Dentsu Aegis Network released information on their U.S. agencies, which revealed that their executive teams are primarily made up of white employees. Of executives, 83.4% are white compared to 1.8% Black or African American, 7.1% Asian and 3.6% Hispanic or Latino employees.

Change has to come from the bottom up and from the top down. This starts with working with diverse creators to fill creative roles. The content creators in your community are the next generation of marketing talent. By partnering with these creators, marketers can expand their knowledge and understanding of diverse voices and communities. Brands should also turn to these creators when they’re looking to hire skilled, up-and-coming talent.

The lasting effect lies in the increased empathy towards diverse experiences and voices that have been previously underrepresented. Content has broken out of the studio, and with it, this idea that authenticity isn’t polished and over-filtered. Authenticity comes from the Instagram posts of your most passionate customers, who happen to care a lot about the narratives and values your brand chooses to emphasize in the future.

Content changed because it needed to

Marketing has always relied heavily on agencies and production companies. But, when quarantine hit, everything ground to a halt. Employees and vendors had to adjust to new restrictions on their work and adapt to working and living under quarantine regulations. Without the same access to in-house or external agencies, studios or photoshoots and with a customer base shifted almost fully online, marketers had to adapt.

For marketers, this has meant finding new and creative ways to get work done and keep creating in a completely different environment. Brands have been forced to experiment with different kinds of content, and much of the content that has been created has been more authentic than most things marketers were putting out pre-pandemic. 

Representation isn’t the only end goal, but it’s a change every marketer and advertiser can absolutely strive for. There is both a business case and a moral case for more diverse content–and subsequently no rationale to ignore both. If you don’t adapt, you’re a jerk.