Inclusive content: Not just for the holidays

By George Norris | 07 Dec 2020

In June, we wrote about the importance of developing an inclusive content strategy. In that piece, we highlighted some of the failures of marketing in addressing this issue and highlighted four evergreen steps for content marketers to bear in mind.

In the run-up to the holiday season, the pertinent issues of inclusivity and diversity are back in the public's consciousness. From Argos to John Lewis, brands have made a concerted effort to address the historical imbalance and underrepresentation seen in holiday advertising.

This year, Sainsbury’s released a wonderful three-part ad series celebrating our Christmas traditions. The first advert, ‘Gravy Song’ featured a black family and centred around the father’s heart-warming and mouth-watering gravy song. The advert went viral, as did some of the obscene and disheartening reactions to it on social media, with some even threatening a boycott of the supermarket chain.

Not deterred by the threat of a boycott over the completely inoffensive adverts, Sainsbury’s teamed up, for the first time ever, with all of the UK’s other major supermarkets to put aside their festive rivalries. Aldi, Asda, Co-op, Iceland, Lidl, M&S, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, and Waitrose agreed an ad break takeover with Channel 4 on the evening of Black Friday. The ads appeared one after the other, each with the hashtag #StandAgainstRacism.

Rachel Eyre, Head of Brand Communications and Creative at Sainsbury’s, said: “We strive to be an inclusive retailer and we’re proud to unite with our industry colleagues to stand up against racism. We’re passionate about reflecting modern Britain and celebrating the diversity of the communities we serve, from our advertising to the products we sell. Sainsbury’s is for everyone and we are committed to playing our part in helping to build an equal society, free of racial bias and injustice. With collective action, together we can drive change.”

A sea-change in advertising?

This collaboration between supermarkets is a really positive step and brings the issue of inclusivity to the forefront for the wider public, as well as marketers. It’s not, of course, ahead of time.

A 2019 survey by Adobe found that 62% of US adults said diversity in a brand’s advertising had at least some impact on the way they perceived that brand’s products and services, with 24% reporting it had a ‘major’ impact. 61% of respondents said diversity in ads was somewhat important or very important, and 38% said they’d be more likely to trust a brand that showed diversity in its advertising. Customers want to see advertisements that truly reflect themselves, their families and their communities. Likewise, brands want to accurately engage with the entirety of their audience. When it comes to holiday content, this challenge is magnified.

Christmas is, of course, a traditional Christian holiday but, for UK households in 2020, the holiday is celebrated in a myriad of ways. For many, it could be carol singing and midnight mass, for others it may involve belting out Fairytale of New York in the pub (tier system allowing). Some people might dig into turkey for their Christmas dinner, but others will have curry and rice. Some communities will exchange gifts on the 24th, many on the 25th, and others not at all. However, the fundamentally important aspect - spending quality time with those we love the most, is what brands look to tap into over the holiday season.

This year at least, we’ve seen brands truly grapple with the diversity of the UK population in their ads. Sky’s Senior Head of Multicultural Business, Debarshi Pandit, contends: “They were caught on the back foot, but the good news is they have acknowledged it and taken corrective steps. This is reflected in some of the campaigns for Christmas this year, where the cast has been more inclusive than ever.”

Whether 2020 marks a sea-change remains to be seen. The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) found in April that UK advertising agencies are falling short when it comes to diversity. The number of Black, Asian and minority ethnic employees was shown to have dropped from 13.8% to 13.7% in 2019. The increased diversity in Christmas advertisements, whilst a positive step, needs to be part of a fundamental and permanent movement, and not a reactionary measure or box-ticking exercise.