Black History Month Ads Need a Makeover

The next wave of inclusive marketing will see the intersection of AI and DEI

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As we celebrate Black History Month in the United States, it’s important to remember our purpose and goal to continue striving for racial equality and justice. We also need to recognize that for too long, the history and experiences of Black people have been marginalized and misunderstood. How can we tell a story we don’t understand? How can we connect authentically if we’re meeting a quota? If we are to truly honor Black history and culture, we must find ways to ensure that Black stories and perspectives are included in the narrative. In short: Black History Month needs a makeover. Rather than simply commemorating the past, we should be looking ahead to how we can drive inclusion in the future, and how data and AI can aid the cause. 

It’s been a little over two years since brands and businesses en masse pledged their commitment to diversity and inclusion—ample time for these proud corporate promises to turn into an empty checkbox on a very long to-do list. Don’t think we haven’t noticed. This first wave of DEI is over.

The second wave of DEI will have brands asking themselves: Is it even worth doing? Of course it is, and the smart brands will start to look at the ROI and see the payoff, literally, in the pockets of shareholders of companies that have made DEI a true priority. In DEI 2.0, we’ll see a new wave of inclusion that goes far beyond ticking a box—because when diversity and inclusion are taken into account with a business-minded focus, it rewards both shareholders and our society. 

It sounds like an oxymoron that benefiting shareholders also serves the greater good—but this is the benefit of being inclusive. 39% of your purchasing audience is multicultural, and mostly Black, which means inclusive communication can unlock this market. When you reach a wider audience, your ad dollars go farther, new customers are acquired and shareholders are happy. 

It’s easy to understand the importance of diversity and inclusion across the board, but these efforts are often misunderstood when it comes to marketing. In the olden days (and things are very much still being done this way), a brand might target women aged 18 to 34 who live in a certain city or make a certain amount of money. Our research has shown that these traditional demographic markers hold less and less power over purchasing behavior. Socioeconomic status, region and education don’t impact intent to purchase—but our experiences do. Studies have shown that a person’s lived experiences, diversity and gender are more significant signals as to whether or not they’ll make a purchase. It makes sense; the lives we lead, the things we do, the experiences that shape us far better explain who we are than statistics on a spreadsheet.

So where does AI factor in? AI is already being used to find hidden patterns and correlations in large data sets, which can be used to create predictive models and inform decision-making. We can use this technology to identify areas where disparities exist and ultimately create more equitable access and outcomes for marketers. By training AI to analyze content through a lens of diversity and inclusion, we can identify purchasing propensity, racial bias and risk factors in content. 

Human behavior, including consumer choice, is highly influenced by emotional state, diversity of experience and one’s internalized view of self-identity. These states are reliably expressed in our language and can therefore be detected in both written and spoken speech, with the latter providing multimodal cues (textual and audio) from which to detect emotion, and the latter processed along the unimodal text domain using natural language processing (NLP) techniques. This means that when provided with the right models, AI can be used to detect any bias or racism in content—from the concept to the script to the full-blown campaign level—as well as to identify any topics that may be associated with exclusion or discrimination. The patterns of emotions clearly differ across commercials in a highly interpretable manner. You feel this when you watch ads—now it’s calculable.

By analyzing content through the lens of diversity and inclusion, AI can help organizations better understand how their content reflects their commitments. Our data reveals a strong correlation between positive emotional responses and positive interpretations of diversity in content. Technology has advanced too far for us to still be operating by guesswork, especially when it comes to inclusion.

Communicating with an audience as diverse as the U.S. population is much more nuanced than previously perceived by marketers. Businesses must focus on the most effective triggers of persuasion. Emotion and inclusion are major driving forces in consumers’ decisions to make a purchase and spread the word about their purchase. In order to make this process as frictionless as possible, and to open the aperture wider, requires a deeper understanding of emotions, sentiment and diversity experience, which were proven to predict purchasing propensity across our studies. Purchasing intent has a high and positive correlation with content that is perceived as inclusive and evokes positive emotions. 

As we enter DEI 2.0, we’ll also see the importance of updating our marketing strategies from “targeting” to “including.” The biggest difference between the two? No one wants to feel targeted, and everyone wants to feel included. We already see it in the media we’re served today, when we’re inundated by ads that make us feel like a walking statistic as opposed to consuming content that resonates with us and makes us feel heard.

Many companies believe the goal is to tighten the range and zero in on a singular, specific audience, when it’s really time to expand our reach. We’re long overdue to ditch the stereotypical tropes about gender and race and start to relate on an emotional, sentimental and experiential level with our audiences. Meeting consumers where they are, from an identity perspective, is key to moving from targeting to inclusion. For far too long we, people of color, have been portrayed in ways that do not reflect our identities and are removed from our experiences. Include our stories, appeal to our emotions and sentiments, connect with us authentically—we will invest in your brands and advocate loudly. We will create deep connections and become loyal to your products and brands. 

Just as American politics have diverged, brands will soon sit on either end of a similar spectrum. Brands that are waiting for this wave of diversity and inclusion to pass will realize it’s not going anywhere; brands that wholeheartedly bring scaled solutions to their businesses—solutions that put the power of inclusion in every content creator’s hands by leveraging multicultural models, AI and NLP—will be rewarded. Using the cloud of infinitesimal data computation empowers brands to get the scaled solutions we need to start to address the lack of representation in the marketing ecosystem.

In order to elevate Black History Month to keep up with the modern era, we need to not just take the stereotypes out of storytelling and marketing—there must also be a data-driven, insights-driven approach to DEI that ultimately benefits business growth. We’ve proven how multicultural understanding will only make your ads better; the brands that are really leaning into this approach are showing now, more than ever, that they truly have their finger on the pulse of this country.