Inclusive Marketing. Fact or Fashion?

It’s time for another installment of “What is Marketing, exactly?” That’s because we need to talk about a topic that has basically commandeered any marketing department’s discussion of strategy: And that’s Inclusive Marketing.

I’m sure you’ve been hearing and reading about it. In fact, it’s almost impossible to avoid the attempts at inclusive marketing that now permeate the broadcast airwaves. From dating apps to detergents, brands galore are jumping on the inclusivity bandwagon. So much so that I’ve begun asking myself… does it work? Am I really believing what I’m seeing? And then, of course, to write about it.

What exactly is inclusive marketing, anyway? Deloitte’s "Authentically Inclusive Marketing" describes it thusly: “On a given day, up to 10,000 discrete advertisements bombard consumers during their waking hours. Consumers—especially the youngest generations—are expecting more from these messages than just details about the latest seasonal sale. Rather, they are questioning whether a brand supports diversity and inclusion both publicly and behind the camera—and this focus is becoming increasingly important to brands, as well.” Some companies are even creating “departments,” if you will, who monitor their inclusion efforts. Scotiabank, for instance, is one. According to their global chief marketing officer, “we have someone whose actual job title is around managing the inclusion-by-design mandate.”

Now, if you’re NOT being inclusive in your marketing, you could be called “tone deaf”. Tone deaf marketing is… well, here’s a good example courtesy of the magazine Ad Age: KFC’s “finger-lickin’ good” campaign. For the most part, pretty innocuous, but not during the height of a deadly pandemic, right? In short, tone deaf marketing describes messaging that is insensitive to what’s going on in the world. And, right now, portraying your brand as sensitive to issues relating to social justice is, according to many anyway, imperative.

How critical? Again, Deloitte: “New U.S. Census data shows that in the past decade, the white population has declined for the first time in history, and people who identify as multiracial, Hispanic, and Asian are driving much of the population growth. A 2021 Gallup poll highlights that LGBTQ identity has risen from 3.5% in 2012 to 5.6% in 2020.” It’s pretty clear that here in the U.S., our consumer population is growing increasingly diverse, whether we’re talking race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or even physical differences in ability. With that growth is an ever-increasing expectation—on the part of these consumers—that brands respond accordingly.

KPMG’s article, “The Power of Inclusive Marketing and Why It Works” makes, what I see, as the essential point here: “Inclusive marketing isn’t a tick-box exercise. Images of white people can’t be just switched with those of ethnic minorities, coloring packaging to pink won’t attract more female buyers, and rainbow flags pinned to a glossy campaign message won’t make them inclusive. So, what actions should brands take?” Here’s my answer to that question based on my own personal, brand building experience at a couple of fairly well-known ad agencies.

One, know your audience. Do the research. Understand to whom you’re speaking. I remember very well the focus groups, the 50-page consumer research decks, the commercial concept testing… There are a lot of ways to create and maintain a brand that is inclusive, as opposed to tone deaf, and understanding your audience is a foundational step. I do think that, in some ways, “inclusivity” has almost become an approach to branding that is more fashion than fact. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a firm believer in marketing to your audience. which is, perhaps, why I sometimes—when viewing a commercial, for instance—question the necessity of an inclusivity subtext. It all goes back to research and “the numbers.” It’s almost as if some marketers have forsaken the principle of targeted messaging in order to accommodate the “trend appeal,” if you will, of inclusivity. Don’t get lured into appealing to everyone—all ages, all races, all genders, for instance—just so that you can be viewed as inclusive… unless your audience truly is everyone. Is it? I doubt it.

Two, staff accordingly. Sure, the women in the shop could have been assigned to the motor oil account and the men assigned to women’s apparel, but that was never the case. When you see tone deaf advertising, it can very likely be traced back to the folks who created it not “being in touch.” Could you effectively convince a stranger, or even a friend, to purchase a product that you yourself never used? Probably not. At least, I wouldn’t put money on it.

Three, be authentic. This is critical and, of course, the most challenging. And that’s because in the end, (and we would see this when concept testing a commercial before it aired) people know when you’re not being authentic. Consumers can sense the difference between something you truly believe in and something that is merely an attempt at lip service.

So, as more and more consumers are looking to align where they spend their money with the brands that fit their values, remember to put an inclusive lens on your marketing. And don’t just leave it at your messaging. Make sure that your “product,” your in-branch and online banking experiences, align and reinforce what your messaging proclaims. Because in order to be genuine and successful with inclusive marketing, it’s not merely what you’re saying: It’s who you are.

About Bank Marketing Center

Here at, our goal is to help you with that vital, topical, and compelling communication with customers; messaging that will help you build trust, relationships, and revenue. In short, build your brand. To view our campaigns, both print and digital, visit Or, you can contact me directly by phone at 678-528-6688 or email at As always, I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject.