Advertising campaigns backfires: an industry’s diversity problem

Lack of diverse workplace makes companies fail in advertising campaigns. (© Pixabay, Geralt)
  • The lack of diverse workplace has costs. Bank of America Merrill Lynch, for example, paid US$ 500 million of lawsuits for racism in the last 16 years.
  • Companies with diverse workforce have better performance, according two separated reports from MIT and McKinsey.
  • A study from MIT helps to clarify why diversity programs fails.

PepsiCo thought that a cultural appropriation of “Black Lives Matters” was a good way to promote their cola drink. Nivea didn’t see a problem in use “White is purity” to talk about a deodorant. Unilever believed that showing a black woman turning into a white one would help to sell more body wash products. In Brazil, Santher launched The Personal VIP toilet paper, a luxury black one with a celebrity endorsement. It was also an appropriation of a black movement’s slogan: “Black is beautiful”. All those ads have a common failure: diversity ignorance.

Everybody knows they had no intentions to offend millions of consumers around the world. But if a company undervalued an ethnic group, it is racism by definition — even when they don’t understand it. And if companies are paying to advertising agencies to create campaigns that fail to address diversity, it is an industry’s problem. It seems advertising professionals and theirs clients, as if they are living in the analogue media era, have bias issues.

LACK OF DIVERSITY IN CORPORATE ENVIRONMENT HAS COSTS. The losses of producing a campaign that has to be discarded are not the only waste of money. For example, in the last 16 years, Bank of America Merrill Lynch had to pay US$ 500 million in lawsuits for racist discrimination. But even with the financial costs of failing to have a diverse workforce, there haven’t been improvements. In 2016, the number of women CEOs in the Fortune 500 has decreased 4%. From 1985 to 2014, in US companies with 100 employees, the proportion of black men in management positions increase from 3 to 3.3%, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission report. And those numbers haven’t been changing much since then.

When it comes to profits and productivity, companies with a diverse workplace have better performance, according to different reports from MIT and McKinsey. However, even in those enterprises equality is not easy to achieve. Women are still underrepresented globally: they are just 16% of the members the executive teams in US, 12% in UK and only 6% in Brazil. A 2016 study from MIT and Northwestern University helps to understand why diversity programs are not effective.

EMPLOYEES WITH DISTINCT BACKGROUNDS HAVE DIFFERENT EXPERIENCES, PERSPECTIVES AND PREFERENCES. So all that will influence the outcomes of the diversity programs. The study identified that there are two main approaches to promote diverse workplace and found that how well a group is represented is fundamental to reduce or to increase frictions.

Celebrating and calling attention to everyone differences. It emphasis that a diverse experiences and backgrounds make a great company. This approach works when the employees are part of a large minority.

Stressing equality. Everyone at the company put an effort and had a hard work. So each one of them deserves to be part of a common entity. When employees are part of a smaller minority, this approach reduces frictions. But, in situations like this, celebrate diversity increases them.

The result is not a surprise to women and minority groups, since they’ve been exposed to one or both approaches during their careers - with successful and failed executions. However, it might help companies to understand that diversity is not just hire minorities. It’s also about to create a corporate culture that really enable the diversity power. That means implement plans to promote and to empower employees from minority groups they already have. Otherwise, there will be more lawsuits for racism, sexual harassment and more offensive ads.

If you like this article, please share it with your contacts. Let me know your ideas about diversity programs leaving a comment. Bye for now.