Is marketing only about driving sales, or is there a bigger opportunity to create connections and shape the customer experience?
On a practical level, marketing is about selling, but at its core, it's really about building trust, relationships, and consumer loyalty. And customers won’t trust you if they don’t feel represented. In fact, recent consumer insights for marketing show that 59% of consumers are more trusting of brands that represent them in their ads.
In a consumer-driven marketplace, marketing and representation go hand in hand. Inclusive marketing and DEI strategies are about including everyone and rely on respect and recognition rather than stereotypes and generalization.
In the big picture, inclusive marketing refers to everything from messaging, visuals, and product design to ensure any consumer can feel accepted, represented, and seen. And it can yield dramatic results—brand trust, loyalty, and increased brand perception. In fact, 64% of consumers reported that seeing diversity in advertising made them trust those brands more, and 85% said they'd only consider purchasing from trusted brands.
However, if you're a Black consumer, that representation has been hard to come by. Historically, the Black community has had a long, complicated history with consumer marketing, from being misrepresented and stereotyped, or absent from marketing altogether. In honor of Black History Month, let's dig deep into the history of Black representation in marketing and how brands can leverage inclusive marketing to build consumer loyalty.
The mid-19th century began with Black people presented in consumer advertising as enslaved people, servants, or objects of amusement. Sadly, most visual ads (until World War II) featured Black people as caricatures and stereotypes. One of the most recognizable is Aunt Jemima as the happy cook, rooted in slavery-era "mammy" imagery. These images were created to reassure white consumers amid unprecedented political and social change—but without thinking about the Black perspective or even recognizing them as customers.
It wasn't until the 1960s when Black consumerism was acknowledged. The Civil Rights Movement gave the Black population political visibility and access to education and better jobs. As their incomes grew, advertisers perked up and finally started paying attention.
But the 1970s didn't herald in inclusive consumer marketing. Unfortunately, it was marked by a one-dimensional representation of Black consumers. While big brands like Jello, McDonald's, and Coca-Cola began marketing directly to Black consumers, their ads often stuck to cultural stereotypes. For example, McDonald's launched a campaign to encourage Black families to "Get Down With a Cheeseburger" and frequently used "g-dropping" in their ad copy—a way of speaking that's stereotypically associated with the Black population.
Nearly two centuries later, brands still stumble regarding representing the Black population in their marketing. For example, Dove's controversial 2017 ad showed a Black woman transforming into a white woman after using the product. But, overall, there's been a shift toward positive and inclusive representation, with brands finally recognizing that their consumer base is diverse and must be embraced.
As we dive into Black consumer insights for marketing in the 21st century, we've seen a tremendous shift from these limiting stereotypes to more empowering representations. We're now seeing campaigns depicting Black people as they should be—professionals, parents, and ordinary people—rather than racist tropes. Companies are now setting a more positive standard for representing the Black community in marketing. Such as targeted campaigns like Proctor & Gamble's multi-brand initiative "Black is Beautiful," to general advertising practices showcasing diversity by brands like Target, Peloton, and Nike.
And it'll pay off with consumers.
Diverse advertising benefits everyone—and many consumers are looking for it. While Black consumers hold $910 billion of today's spending power, and 68% of Black consumers report they're loyal to brands that satisfy them, in a survey by Adobe, 38% of consumers across all demographics said they're more likely to trust brands that show diversity in their ads. This number nearly doubles for Gen Z consumers, where 70% said they trust brands that represent diversity in ads more.
So, what can we learn from the past to better represent ethnic groups in marketing?
So, while inclusive marketing practices can help increase consumer trust, how do you build it? Here are a few tips to get you started.
Take a look at your customers—who are you selling to? Consumer research can give you the low down on who's buying your products and how you're marketing your brand. Review demographics and see if there are ideal customers you're missing out on—or ignoring. This data can provide you with consumer insights for marketing to new groups, and customer preferences about representation and messaging.
Unsurprisingly, images matter when it comes to consumer decision-making. Ninety percent of information transmitted to our brains is visual, so it's essential to use images that hook the viewer and drive them to take action. But, if the images on your ads, blogs, website, and social media aren't inclusive, you could be encouraging people to look elsewhere. Instead, showcase human diversity in your campaigns and think beyond a "one-size-fits-all" approach to your visual content.
It's hard to escape language biases, but it's essential to recognize how our words can shape consumer perception and overall brand messaging. Stereotypical tropes aren't just unimaginative—they're offensive and can do long-term damage to your brand's reputation. Instead, lean on inclusive language, empathy, and context when brainstorming marketing messaging.
Not sure how to become more inclusive? Invest in training for your staff. Companies that include diversity and inclusion as part of their core values are more likely to foster an inclusive environment, both internally and externally. Training will ensure everyone in your organization is on the same page when it comes to representation in your marketing.
Inclusivity isn't about forced diversity—it's about representation that conveys a sense of belonging and connectedness. Avoid tokenism, such as using actors or characters simply for the sake of “checking off a diversity box.” This technique rings hollow and can actually do more harm than good. Instead, step into the shoes of your consumer and consider their perspective and ask yourself how you can better represent groups in your messaging.
Take time to evaluate the way your customers feel about your brand, create consumer research plans, and find ways to include diverse perspectives in all aspects of your marketing. How can you promote a culture of inclusion in your marketing? One way is to embed questions into your marketing process to assess if your ads and content are inclusive. You can also leverage customer stories from different perspectives and diverse voices.
The Black community has long been underserved and excluded by brands. Moving forward, brands must prioritize consumer inclusion and commit to understanding the backgrounds, needs, and struggles of all consumer audiences.
What's the best approach?
One way is by investing in consumer research. This data can bring you consumer insights for marketing that will help you create authentic, meaningful, and inclusive ads that resonate with all consumer audiences. By understanding your consumers and want they need, you can create marketing that feels meaningful, genuine, and respectful.
Difficult challenges require asking difficult questions. We don't shy away from either. As a research and strategy firm, we help you find truths in places you wouldn't expect to take you to places you never thought possible. Let's chat.