The Importance of Inclusive Marketing in 2019

Brands must incorporate diversity into their content if they want to continue resonating with consumers.

Only a few years ago, brands used aspirational imagery to sell products across a myriad of industries. But now, consumers are blasting brands that pedal privilege and exclusivity. A growing number of consumers prefer authentic advertising that represents the world around them. Businesses that can incorporate diversity into their products and marketing content will continue to stay relevant and set themselves up for future success.


Nowhere is this shift towards inclusivity more prevalent than in the fashion and beauty industries. Less than a decade ago, brands within these sectors worked hard to sell an elitist lifestyle, using models and spokespeople that fit into a very narrow definition of beauty – mostly white, thin, cisgender, and non-disabled. The tide has begun to turn in recent years, propelled by current social movements such as Black Lives Matter and #MeToo, where there is a growing backlash against objectifying women, impossible beauty standards, and the glamorization of unhealthy body types.


Now the mantra is health over beauty where consumers are demanding inclusive content using characters that reflect reality. Up and coming brands that have embraced this mindset have already found great success, while well established brands have experienced falling sales by refusing to adhere to these consumer demands.


Take Fenty Beauty, Rihanna’s cosmetic brand which launched in September 2017. The brand launched with an impactful 40 shades of foundation, catering to both men and women and including shades that run the gamut from albino skin tones to dark ones. The launch of the 40 shade selection, made a statement not only in the beauty industry, but also addressed the lack of inclusivity the world continues to experience from brands. The reaction was overwhelmingly positive across social media and the beauty communuty, with Fenty Beauty being named one of Time magazine’s best inventions of 2017. Other cosmetic companies like Revlon, Dior, and CoverGirl quickly sought to duplicate Fenty’s success, with 40 shades becoming the new industry standard overnight.


Fenty Beauty’s Pro Filt’r Soft Matte Longwear Foundation in 40 Shades


The fashion industry is also seeing the same type of inclusion revolution. ASOS, a popular UK streetwear brand, is well known as a leader in inclusivity both in its fashion and in its advertising. In July of last year, ASOS took steps to make its clothing even more representational by launching a jumpsuit for wheelchair users ahead of UK’s festival season. ASOS received outstanding acclaim for its product, potentially paving the way for more disability friendly fashion down the road [1].


On the other side of the spectrum, the once dominant lingerie giant, Victoria Secret is seeing declining sales and eroding market share. The lingerie market has seen increased competition in recent years, but much of Victoria Secret’s downfall can be attributed to a refusal to embrace modern beauty standards and inclusivity. This is made especially clear in its annual fashion show where Victoria Secret features stick-thin models who famously undergo regimented diets in preparation for the show. To add fuel to the fire, Ed Razek, CMO of Victoria Secret’s parent company, caused outrage when he mocked the notion of having larger models or trans models walk the runway. [2]


Third Love’s response to Victoria Secret, following Ed Razek’s interview with Vogue, who stated “We’re nobody’s third love. We’re their first love.” [2]


Victoria Secret is slowly losing relevance. Consumers who expect inclusivity, representation, and authenticity are no longer willing to put their dollars behind a brand that doesn’t reflect their values. Last year’s fashion show, which aired in December, ahead of the all important holiday season, saw its lowest ratings ever – 3.3 million vs. last year’s low of 5 million viewers [3].


Lane Bryant’s #ImNoAngel Campaign



Developing inclusive campaigns is crucial to remain relevant with consumers, however, content and advertising must come from an authentic place. There are a few concrete ways in which businesses can increase diversity and create more representative content:

1. Hire diverse talent

Take the time to actively recruit a more diverse team and seek out diversity within agency partners. Having greater representation will allow your brand to tap into new perspectives and insights, and potentially unlock new business opportunities

2. Measure results and hold your brand accountable

Investigate the types of people that your business generally features within branded content and address heavy bias. Create benchmarks for your brand to increase diversity and measure results regularly.

3. Don’t fall into stereotypes

In a recent study, 85% of women said advertising does not represent their real-world selves [4]. It’s important that when people see themselves represented on screen, it reflects a true version of who they are. This not only applies to the face on screen, but also every aspect of the creative vision, from the food they eat, to the clothing they wear, to how the person interacts with other people.

4. Communicate inclusion

While inclusion is now considered an industry standard, that doesn’t mean it’s not marketable. Avoid inclusivity as a gimmick, but feel free to communicate the ways in which you’re taking steps to create a more representative brand. Be open to consumer feedback. You can’t please everyone, but if inclusivity is within your core philosophy (as it should be), improvement should always be considered an opportunity.


Inclusion is no longer a differentiating factor, but a consumer expectation. Developing diverse content, images, and product lines must feel true to the brand versus just a money grab. If successfully executed, companies should expect to see inclusivity increase their bottom line – in a sense doing well by doing good.


  1. Refinery 29
  2. Vox
  3. The Hollywood Reporter
  4. Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media