IBIS shares news, insight and best practices about pressing Diversity & Inclusion and Unconscious Bias topics in today’s workplace.

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Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Branding & Marketing

One best practice we at IBIS frequently recommend to clients: Ensure that all teams involved in the development or marketing of a product or service are diverse—and include diverse consumers as stakeholders.

In 2018, too many organizations ignored this practice.

Most of us are familiar with the last year’s more-publicized instances of bias in marketing, such as the “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle” H&M advertising fiasco, in which editors, photographers, art directors, web designers and more apparently overlooked the racial overtones of a shirt’s message, or Heineken’s “Sometimes Lighter is Better” ad campaign. Products appeared in 2018 that quickly offended customers, such as Prada’s now-discontinued “Blackface Keychains,” or Target’s “To My Baby Daddy” Father’s Day greeting card. These products made headlines because they offended so many, so quickly—but bias saturates more marketing, branding and product offerings than make the news.

Product, service and marketing development tend to reflect an organization’s culture—and culture can be impacted using intentional strategies.

For example, organizations can make a point of showcasing and rewarding leaders and employees who drive change through advocating inclusive behaviors.

The organization can use social media and the company website to actively promote commitment to DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion).

The physical space of an organization can reflect inclusion and equity.

And hiring for product teams….well, you already know that one. Product and branding teams should be fundamentally diverse in order to effectively support their customers, and to critically evaluate what is needed to drive DEI efforts in marketing and branding.

My jaw dropped in 2018 when I saw an app that needlessly assigned racial identity to an unborn fetus. I’d spun around in my chair to check out the icon on my colleague’s phone as she wondered aloud why every fetus, and mother, in her phone’s pregnancy app had to be white. Pregnancy apps detail embryonic change and development inside the mother, and we’re all pretty much the same on the inside. She reached out to the product developers to suggest they add an option to change the race, and they asked her to tell them more. How much more, I wondered, does she really need to say? They wanted her to explain her experience as a user; I wondered if they’d consulted any black expectant mothers on their product, and I decided…probably not.

All this casual racial hegemony makes it more comfortable for people with white skin to inhabit the world. This unthinking advertising and marketing is part of the systemic bias that upholds white supremacy.

The January 2019 IOF focus is branding. In this new year, may more leaders champion the power of inclusive marketing. Marketing, branding and product development provide an opportunity – to allow our perception of humanity to be influenced by a wide variety of images and products that reflect the power of true and diverse expression, inheritance and identity.


Writer Cedar Pruitt is a senior diversity consultant at IBIS, specializing in inclusive leadership and culture at organizations ranging from start-up companies to competitive universities.