Inclusive marketing is the future of marketing. However, it is important for leaders to acknowledge, that everyone isn’t a fan of inclusion, specifically as it relates to people from specific marginalized communities.
The LGBTQ+ community specifically has born the brunt of a great deal of backlash from certain consumers specifically in response to brands working to include them in campaigns.
Last month, Bud Light sparked an uproar among anti-trans groups as a result of their collaboration with trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney. And most recently, both Adidas and Sports Illustrated are receiving calls for boycotts after their campaigns featured non-binary and trans models in their campaigns.
While it doesn’t appear that Adidas or Sports Illustrated have responded officially to the recent backlash for their inclusive marketing choices, their actions demonstrate that their support for the LGBTQ+ community is deep enough to not cave in to voices of naysayers.
If your goal is to include people from marginalized communities, including those of LGBTQ+ consumers, take the lead from Sports Illustrated and Adidas by embracing these principles.
Be The Standard Setter
In 2018, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit editor MJ Day, who is still in her post today, wrote about how the brand was advancing an idea of inclusion, even if the world wasn’t yet on board with it yet:
“In recent years we’ve worked hard to make the Swimsuit Issue a celebration of another idea long obvious to those of us in the real world, even if Hollywood, the fashion industry and mainstream and social media are sometimes slow to embrace it: the inarguable truth that beauty comes in all forms. Dark, light, curvy, slim, tall, short — all types of beauty are worthy of celebration.”
Building an inclusive brand doesn’t mean you wait until everyone is on board with inclusion. It’s about having a vision and values that align with inclusion, and moving forward with it, even if that means blazing a trail when others are slow to embrace your vision.
With the vision of celebrating beauty in all forms, the brand has highlighted a broad diversity of models over the years, including 81-year old Martha Stuart who also graced the magazines swimsuit issue this year.
The goal of course isn’t to set trends just for the sake of setting trends. It’s to change both the narrative, unjust standards, and systems that have historically negatively impacted people from specific communities.
Inclusive marketing isn’t just about the marketing. The impact of marketing more inclusively, transforms lives for the better. Don’t wait to make that impact for the masses to “make it ok.”
Rihanna’s ultra inclusive brand Fenty Beauty was also a standard setter when it launched. At the time, featuring forty shades of foundation to accommodate consumers with different skin complexions all over the world was not the norm. But once Fenty Beauty did it, makeup brands followed suit, and forty shades of foundation is now an industry standard.
Focus On Longevity
Sports Illustrated isn’t new to featuring transgender models. In 2020, Valentina Sampaio became the first transgender Sports Illustrated swimsuit model. And in 2021, Leyna Bloom was the first Sports Illustrated swimsuit model on the cover. So this 2023 cover with transgender pop star Kim Petras isn’t as groundbreaking for the brand.
Back in 2020 when it featured Sampaio, Anthony Ramos, Sports Illustrated’s Head of Talent, told the Los Angeles Times that the company was joining the ranks of other institutions such as Girl Scouts of the USA, and Miss Universe in recognizing that trans women are women. He went on to add that “talented women like Valentina Sampaio deserve to be spotlighted and given equal opportunities. Her work in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit is a significant step forward as the modeling industry continues its evolution on traditional standards of inclusion.”
Once you take a stand on inclusion, stick with it. Don’t let it be a trend, or a bandwagon moment. Consumers from marginalized communities want to know you’re serious about your support for them and their community before deciding to give you their attention, dollars, and loyalty.
Your track record over time of seeing them as consumers and supporting their community will demonstrate that the attention you give them is rooted in more than just you trying to get them to buy more of your stuff.
Align Your Marketing With Advocacy And Allyship
In addition to featuring non-binary models in swimsuits designed by South African queer designer Rich Mnisi in their ‘Let Love Be Your Legacy’ Pride 2023 campaign, the brand is also engaging in advocacy for the LGBTQ+ community.
The campaign furthers Adidas’ commitment to “drive greater access, equity, and safety for sport’s marginalized communities through advocacy and allyship.” As part of that commitment, it is continuing its partnership with non-profit Athlete Ally, whose purpose is to end homophobia and transphobia in sport.
Given the stated goals of Adidas and their collaborations to further their goals, it seems unlikely the company will bend in response to uproars of a group of people who feel featuring non-binary models is an assault against women.
You can establish goals for how you can support the communities you’re choosing to serve by identifying causes that impact those communities and then create action plans to move those causes forward.
Of course that doesn’t mean that you have to be the one spearheading each initiative. Sometimes collaborating with organizations who are leading the charge on specific issues important to the community you serve accomplish the goal.
Inclusive marketing requires both boldness and depth. Without either, you’ll find yourself in the category of Bud Light, who backtracked when a vocal group of people didn’t like their approach to inclusion.
Inclusive marketing will soon be just the way marketing is done. Embrace how to engage in inclusive marketing the right way. Following the lead of brands who are in the trenches with it now is a good place to start.