In diversity, there is brand strength

In recent weeks, two brands came under attack for what consumers perceive as a strong prejudice against women and their appearance. Japanese camera brand, Canon launched a campaign that exclusively featured male photographers as KOLs (key opinion leaders) and was outed by consumers as misogynistic.  The Belo Medical group’s ‘pandemic effect ‘campaign showed a slender, pretty lady slowly turning obese, hairy and unrecognizable (from pre-pandemic days) as time moved forward through the pandemic. The Belo ad was deemed unacceptable, insensitive and offensive by netizens. The Belo Medical Group has since then issued an apology and has withdrawn its advert from its proprietary digital assets.

Millenials and Gen Zs level up awareness of diversity and inclusiveness

Diversity and inclusiveness are two big words that have gained traction among recent generations. Diversity means recognizing individual differences across a broad spectrum of gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, status, age, physical and mental abilities, religious beliefs, ideologies, socio-economic status, etc. Inclusiveness is the mindset and act of embracing all forms of diversity.

At the recent I am Woman womenar Learning Series, a webinar organized with the support of the UNWomen, Women’s Business Council Philippines, Philippine Commission on Women, DTI Philippines, We Empower Asia, Funded by the European Union Group among others, this writer invited to speak maintains that the younger Millenial and Gen Z generational cohorts have raised much awareness about diversity and inclusiveness. These two generational cohorts, many enjoying personal disposable income of their own and now fueling the economy, strongly believe, espouse and influence people around them to say No to being judgmental, to be more tolerant and embrace differences.

The different forms of diversity and how inclusive branding helps make a strong brand

Not all products and services, with a name, are classified as a brand. Kevin Lane Keller, a widely known guru of Strategic Brand Management maintains that commodities become brands only when they begin having strong, unique and favorable brand associations that consumers have in memory.

This writer posits that when products and services transcend from being a commodity to becoming brands, they now have more leverage, flexibility and reputation that can lead them to become an inclusive brand, if they choose.

Inclusive brands, as presented by this writer at the conference, leverages on the brand’s messaging, associations, cult followers, technology, process so that consumers of diverse race, age, gender, sexual orientation, class, religion, physical and mental ability, ethnicity, relationships, culture, appearance are drawn to, deeply connect and fully experience the brand.

 There are several dimensions of diversity.

Diversity of relationships. Single parent families, same sex parents, blended families, interracial families, non-biological families, are some examples of this diversity. Sixty-year-old high street fashion, River Island, originating from England, launched a brand campaign back in 2019 with #This is family. The advert featured same sex parent families and multi-racial families breaking traditional nuclear family images.

Diversity of gender. The gender divide has led to society categorizing certain behaviors as masculine and feminine, heightening women and men’s physical differences. For example, gender stereotypes include women being solely relegated to the home while men are more suitable becoming the family provider.

Today, brand campaigns that raise public consciousness about gender equality are becoming widely acknowledged. Women are encouraged to work towards their full potential while there is a need to have more men supporting women rising. The Pampers #Love the Change campaign first shown on Super Bowl’s online video stream, showed John Legend and Adam Levine, both American musicians and a group of other dads with their infants singing happily while changing diapers or performing their daddy duty. The advert stemmed from an insight that young fathers believe they are hands on parents yet society has not recognized their contribution to parenting.

Diversity of physical and mental ability. Unbeknown to many, Nike, founded in 1964 by Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman, has always be an inclusive brand. Nike’s brand philosophy “so long as you have a body, you are an athlete” embraces inclusiveness and veers away from the stereotype definition of athletes as highly proficient in sports and physical exercise. Hence, Nike’s selling line ‘Just do it’ is a complement to the brand philosophy.

Diversity of appearance. Dove’s real beauty campaign mounted in 2004, a good 21 years back, has shown how a sustained inclusive branding effort can help grow the brand. The campaign was meant to address the stereotype concept of what is beautiful and push the idea that true beauty is natural and comes from within thus, encouraging women to have more confidence and self- esteem.

Diversity of race and culture.  Embracing people of different races, color, cultural differences and societal behavior is an ongoing challenge for many. An early proponent in inclusive branding promoting non-prejudicial acceptance of race is Coca Cola. Back in 1971, or a half a century ago, Coca Cola aired its Hilltop advert that brought together hundreds of children of different races and color singing a unified melody that carried a hummable lyric “I’d like to buy the world a coke and keep it company. It’s the real thing”. Sixteen years later in 1987, a second Coca Cola inclusive advert took world stage. This time the advert titled Tomorrow’s People, once again brought children of different races together including the Philippines’ renowned child singer then, Lilet, affirming love for the brand across the world with its selling line, ‘Coke is it’. These kids of 1987 belong to today’s Millenial generation, who are tolerant of diversity.

How can brands become inclusive

Buy-in of the owners or board.  Becoming an inclusive brand is no easy task. It is a sustainable mission to integrate a specific advocacy into a brand’s DNA so that loyal and potential consumers can associate a particular advocacy with the brand. Thus, owners of the brand and its Board must recognize that building an inclusive brand is never short term.

Align a specific cause of diversity with the brand equity. Building an inclusive brand is far easier if a product or service is by itself a brand and there are already positive, strong and familiar associations attached to it. This way the added association of a diversity cause is simply an addition to the existing brand equity. Thus, it is very important that a particular diversity espoused by the brand must be congruent with the brand’s existing equity association.

Creative executions must only enhance the brand’s message of diversity and inclusiveness. Consumer backlash often happens when a creative execution overpowers the brand objective and messaging. Some marketers and creative people abide by the belief that all publicity, good or bad is actually good for awareness. This is a misnomer because a true brand will only have strong, unique, favorable and positive associations. Negative associations erode the brand’s equity.

Rally the brand along one specific, sustainable diversity message. There are many aspects of diversity. There must be a cohesive alignment internally and externally and through time around one specific diversity advocacy message. There must be tangible, notable physical evidences around the brand, in the corporate headquarters, retail outlets and each consumer touch point that support the brand’s diversity message to become a strong inclusive brand.

The writer is Chief Brand Strategist of MKS Marketing Consulting and is an alumna of Oxford University’s SAID Graduate School of Business Strategic Leadership and Strategic Marketing Executive Education Program and Stanford Graduate School of Business Strategic Marketing Executive Education. De Asis is also an alumna of the Ateneo Graduate School of Business and a PhD graduate of the De La Salle Graduate School, Taft Campus. Reach the author who is also a member of the Global Strategic Consulting Network at