How are marketers embracing diversity to connect with customers?

11th Nov 2013

For many brands, being able to successfully depict diversity is a significant but also challenging undertaking. Somewhere between the generic image and the overly-contrived ‘token’ shot lies the sweet spot that reflects the world around us as it actually is. In its latest issue, Getty Images’ trends publication, Curve, looks at how organisations are using imagery connected to the concept of diversity to build long-lasting relationships with their customers.

In a globalised, networked world, where imagery and information are easily distributed and shared, campaigns often communicate to a diverse collective, rather than clearly defined target audiences. Brands need to address their audiences as one group while also acknowledging that they come from different backgrounds, different generations and different cultural and social settings. Consumers’ values and beliefs, expectations and preferences are as diverse as they are.  Shifts in demographics, gender roles, family configurations and “acceptable” beauty types are therefore crucial to track, reflect, and refract on today’s visual stage.

To get it right, brands need to find visuals which both appeal to the general market and are still resonant with different segments that are represented. Apple’s recent ‘Our Signature’ advert is a campaign that manages this successfully. The video cuts across people from different backgrounds, yet still remains natural and unforced. Diversity is presented as a reality and an aspiration, simultaneously.

Over the past decade, the issue of body image has risen to the forefront of the diversity debate as the internet and social media have heralded a new, more authentic era of body image. Now the discussion is no longer only about model sizes or the retouching of faces and bodies, but also includes the representation of people with disabilities. Earlier this year, Debenhams decided to face the issue of body perceptions head on by featuring a wide variety of models, including a Paralympian athlete and a woman with a prosthetic leg, in their Summer Lookbook. The retailer aimed to celebrate the diversity amongst its customer base, acknowledging the fact that they are not all the same shape or size.

Another fashion retailer that has recently taken the spotlight through its autumn / winter campaign is Marks and Spencer. The troubled, iconic British brand hit the headlines in 2012 due to disappointing sales results and has subsequently launched a number of high profile campaigns. Under the strapline, ‘Meet Britain’s leading ladies’, it aims to celebrate British women from diverse backgrounds and professions. The photographs taken by Annie Leibovitz, as well as a series of online videos, showcase a number of well-known females as role models, including Helen Mirren, Tracey Emin and Nicola Adams.

As people are now living longer than ever before, the rising age of consumers is one area that the branding and marketing industries have to embrace in order to address the changing needs of this vast audience. The issue of our aging population was highlighted in a government report that predicted that there will be a 51% rise in those aged 65+ and a 101% increase in those aged 85+ from 2010 to 2030. Subtle hints towards a new perception of ‘the old’ are being seen now more than ever before.

Earlier this year German Vogue for example, chose to feature Tina Turner on its cover. At 73, the rock star demonstratively refutes the typical stereotypes associated with ‘age’. Cole Haan went one step further in its autumn campaign, to celebrate the company’s 85th anniversary. The business presented four models born in 1928 in their adverts - models with wit, life experience and style: author Maya Angelou, model and fashion editor China Machado, astronaut Captain Jim Lovell, as well as photographer Elliott Erwitt.

In the past ten years many brands have shown an increasing interest in LBGT consumers. Most recently, and especially in the US, marketing activities are starting to move from targeted niche publications into wider media channels. One example comes from online travel company Expedia, which has joined the list of corporations expressing support for marriage equality with a recent advert entitled ‘Find Your Understanding’. The advert tells the touching story of Artie Goldstein, who travels to attend his daughter’s same-sex wedding in California.

In order to effectively engage with your audience, no matter what their background, only a good insight into your customer will ensure that you get it right. As the meaning of diversity evolves, so too does the visual language that brands need to use in order to communicate with their consumers. Campaigns that feel natural and reflect our everyday lives will resonate most with today’s audience and move towards more inclusive communication that presents diversity as a reality and an aspiration that will inspire change.

Micha Schwing is senior manager content strategy for Getty Images.


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