The idea of companies using diversity as a marketing tool inherently sounds like a positive measure to promote underrepresented groups. Yet, there are times when the intentions of a company may not parallel with their diverse marketing tactics. Whether their problem is their intention or that the message got misconstrued in the campaign process, there are a few times that companies missed the mark when promoting diversity in their marketing.
One of the top diversity marketing faux pax goes to Pepsi this year. Their commercial with model Kendall Jenner taking off her wig during a photo shoot, joining a diverse movement in the streets, and handing a Pepsi to the riot control police as a peace offering seemed a bit distasteful with everything happening in our country. The internet took a storm and had the consensus that handing a police officer a Pepsi was not going to solve the issue of police brutality, racial driven murders, and general divisiveness in our country. Pepsi’s intention was to showcase diversity to improve their company’s brand but they fell short in critically thinking about their messaging.
Pantene recently had successful marketing efforts with their #StrongisBeautiful campaign. Their commercials and ads have been promoting various unique African American women by giving them a platform to share their stories about hair discrimination. They tell the narrative of how women of color with natural, and more coarse hair textures face societal discrimination with various hair products.
Dove has been building their Real Beauty campaign for over thirteen years. This is a company that has built up a campaign telling women they are more beautiful than they think. The soap company started this campaign way before diversity marketing was overly popular. Yet, one wrong step can set back a campaign that a decade of positive promotion has built. One of their commercials displayed women taking off skin tone colored shirts to reveal a different woman. A clip of the commercial was posted online of an African American women taking off her dark-colored top to reveal a white woman underneath. Of course, this sparked much outrage in the online community.
This marketing snafu is ugly because it shows that even a company that is dedicated to celebrating women of different races, shapes, and non-traditional beauty standards can also make a wrong move. Their intention was not to promote divisiveness but their messaging indirectly did just that.
When working as a university vice president of color I did not have the privilege of ignoring how the marketing of diversity impacted those who were chosen for such marketing messages and advertising campaigns. We consciously walked a fine line between using the few diverse faces on campus for photo ops to send a message that we were more diverse than we were while at the same time using these same diverse faces to attract more diverse faces to the campus in hopes of expanding our diversity within the student body. What I found to be more important is that those students of diverse backgrounds who were used for marketing felt included in the campus community, experienced equity, and experienced a campus-wide celebration and appreciation of their distinct cultural backgrounds. All this is stated in order to generate more critical thinking around the diversity marketing of your organization.