It shouldn’t be surprising that equality is an issue that many consumers consider to be crucially important. It only takes one glance at the news or a short scroll through Twitter to see that it’s a topic many people feel passionately about.
In 2014, 61% of British adults agreed with the statement “I think we should strive for equality for all” but by 2020 that number had increased to 71%. In the US, racial equality is “now the most important social value to consumers.”
While it’s not unheard of for brands to comment on this topic, particularly when they’re using activism as part of their marketing strategy, a slew of mainstream brands are starting to rethink the myriad ways that inequality might manifest — and are attempting to tackle it in new campaigns and initiatives.
Brands including L’oreal, Costa, Heineken, and Coca-Cola have committed to take on the well-documented influencer pay gap, which has seen “black influencers get paid less than white influencers.”
Those responsible for brokering deals between influencers and brands within the influencer marketing industry have claimed that “pay discrepancy based on race is by no means built into the system” with prices that are predicated on an influencer’s ability to reach target audiences. According to them “if an influencer of color has more followers than a white influencer in the same category, they would be paid more.”
The disparity has been attributed to the devaluation of the “black dollar” — where white audiences are courted over those of color, meaning demand is higher for white influencers which in turn allows them to command a higher price.
Alisa Metzger, founder of the Innbeauty Project clarifies that “It comes from where you’re finding your low-hanging fruit, from who’s there to buy your brand. And in the US, in beauty, it’s still more often white women between the ages of 25 and 40. So you’re going out and finding lookalike influencers to match that demographic.”
The pledges made by L’oreal, Coca-Cola, Heineken, and 20 other brands come as the ISBA (Incorporated Society of British Advertisers) revised its best practice code with three new principles:
Be allies in addressing the unacceptable pay gaps in influencer marketing, including those based on race and gender
Regularly audit the diversity of the pool of talent with which they work
Work to address diversity in their own marketing teams, to promote truly inclusive campaigns
The code of conduct, only released in September 2021 is intended to provide a standard for best practices for brands, agencies, and talent to “deliver transparency and authenticity across influencer marketing collaborations.”
Brands vs Bias Elsewhere, Heineken is attempting to leverage its brand’s clout in the world of soccer to take on gender bias within the sport. Their Fresher Football website provides bias-free statistics on the world of soccer that level the playing field by putting the achievements of male and female players side by side.
Bram Westernbrink, global head of Heineken brand, commented that:
“Heineken is a brand for the fans and we’ve always been passionate about bringing people together to celebrate the things they love — Now, on our journey to improve inclusivity in football through our sponsorships, we’re committed to ensuring the sport is a safe and welcoming space for everyone.”
The online community for women, Peanut, is also challenging bias in their latest campaign that attempts to reframe how female bodies are presented. In relation to healthcare services, female bodies have historically been portrayed as “white, slim, hairless, young and able-bodied” — a notion that is visibly resisted in their striking campaign that has garnered a good deal of consumer attention.
Finally, the controversy surrounding Samsung’s recent Night Owl campaign demonstrates how brands need to make careful considerations while issues of equality are so high on the public’s agenda. While the message behind the ad in question was intended to be empowering, many felt that its portrayal of a woman jogging at 2 am in the morning was oblivious to the “ongoing conversations around women’s safety”.
Erica Frite of the women-owned and operated ad agency, Fancy, commented that “it’s good that brands are celebrating women and encouraging them to be independent and brave, but that this advice doesn’t make sense when it ignores realities about their lives.”
The main lesson here is that tackling inequality and ensuring sincere representation of groups that have struggled to be seen and head in an authentic way requires input from those very groups — whether you want to comment on a specific issue, target a specific demographic, or just make your creatives more diverse.
If you can’t find those voices in your own teams, why not work with an organization or charity that knows their stuff to make sure your attempts at inclusivity are collaborative and authentic? Consumers will appreciate your efforts.
It’s also important to remember that consumers are more concerned with real action rather than words or gestures — only 25% of US citizens surveyed in 2020 wanted brands to make statements in support of racial justice compared to 37% who wanted a commitment to equal pay and hiring.
Diving into consumer data can also be a useful tool in the process of figuring out how your brand should face this issue — though it's no replacement for first-hand collaboration. Understanding who your customers are could go some way to removing your own biases and assumptions — and even help you find valuable new audiences to who you’re currently not speaking.
Following the furor around Samsung’s Night Owl Campaign, it’s understandable that some brands may feel reluctant to delve into issues that can inspire passionate responses from both sides of the political spectrum. Indeed, “not all consumers want to see brands engage in actions aimed at transforming culture.”
However, while the focus on these topics tends to be on the outrage that plays out on social media, it’s important to remember that brands have a vested interest in meeting the needs of target consumers.
As an issue that factors heavily into many people’s purchasing decisions, it shouldn’t be controversial for your brand to make changes to reflect these new preferences. Indeed, with 50% of consumers in the US prepared to stop using a brand if it does not align with their stance on equality — addressing these issues doesn’t have to be about activism or politics but is simply a crucial business decision that can open your brand up to a wider audience.