Can Advertising Ever Be Diverse Enough?



Just as Advertising Age celebrated the contention that “Ad Campaigns Are Finally Reflecting Diversity of U.S.,” yet another minority group popped up to complain of being left out.

You’ve come a long way, baby

“Marketing experts say this is the moment that historians and social commentators will likely declare a tipping point for advertising enlightenment in the years to come,” gushes Natalie Zmuda, noting that this magic moment was a while in coming.

  • In 1947, Pepsi became one of the first national advertisers to show people who were then called Negros and are now called African-Americans in advertising. (Not in the same ad as whites, though.)
  • In 1963, some 40 major advertisers announced they’d started preparing integrated ads.
  • In 1974, Jell-O broke a color line by choosing Bill Cosby as its on-air spokesman.
  • In 1994, Ikea ran the first ad featuring a gay couple in mainstream media.
  • Volkswagen’s 1997 “Da Da Da” television :60, featuring two men cruising in their VW and loading up an armchair left on the sidewalk typified what was to become a “vaguely gay” trend.
  • A 2012 Target weekly circular featured a child with Down syndrome without particular comment.
  • And in its ill-fated campaign that year, JCPenney braved protests from One Million Moms to unwaveringly support its choice of openly gay spokeswoman Ellen DeGeneres.

In recent years, diversity in advertising has hit the big time.

  • Banana Republic built a campaign around designer Nate Berkus and his partner.
  • Procter & Gamble’s Swiffer produced a spot with the Rukavina family, which is not only interracial, but has a male head of household with a disability.
  • A June, 2013, Cheerios commercial with an interracial family and a biracial daughter provoked attacks from MSNBC, and enough hostile YouTube comments to make General Mills disable commenting; but it also provoked enough praise and defense – and high enough Ace Metrix consumer research scores – for Cheerios to bring Gracie and her family back for a :30 in this year’s Super Bowl.
  • Also in the Super Bowl, Coke jumped on the diversity bandwagon with a commercial showing people of different ethnicities singing “America the Beautiful” in different languages.
  • And in the Sochi Olympics, Chevrolet’s “The New Us” campaign was heavy on vignettes of gay and interracial families.

But apparently not far enough

The Rukavina Swiffer spot and Guiness television advertising built around wheelchair basketball notwithstanding, an advocacy group called DISABILITYincites is kvetching about disabled Americans being left out – of consumer research.

Their problem is that people with disabilities are randomly included in, er, random samples, which is what consumer researchers use to keep findings unbiased and reflective of the population as a whole. Founder Tonya Deniz and her organization want their constituents to be singled out and “expressly included in market research,” not treated like everyone else.

This, by the way, is just the opposite of how they want  people with disabilities to be shown in advertising – not as expressly disabled, but just like everyoine else.

“[A] lot of the ads showed people with disabilities as what you call ‘super crips,'” says Deniz. “You might as well slap a cape on them while they’re in their wheelchairs. People with disabilities hate those ads. They don’t want to be someone else’s inspiration.”

Is diversity really a selling point?

While advertisers are starting to treat diversity as a selling point in and of itself, results are at best mixed in the marketplace.

Olgivy president-global brand Jamie Prieto “would recommend” using diversity as a statement “as a way to be an authentic brand in today’s environment.” But Garry Getto, president at Advertising Benchmark Index, warns that it can be polarizing and generally doesn’t drive consumers to buy.

People buy Coca-Cola for the taste and Cheerios for the health benefits, not because they showcase inclusiveness in their commercials.

Chevrolet’s Sochi campaign is a case in point. While commenters on the brand’s Facebook page are defending it against derogratory comments, they wouldn’t be doing this if there weren’t a noticeable number of derogatory comments to defend against.

Though YouGov BrandIndex research shows that perception and pourchase intent spiked among gays, among 18-34-year-olds buzz may be up, but purchase consideration is flat as a punctured tire.

“Just because the majority are siding with the brand,” said CEO Ted Marzilli, “doesn’t necessarily mean they’re supporting the brand with their pocketbooks,”


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One Comment

  • Tonya Deniz on Apr 04, 2014 Reply

    As a matter of clarity, disABILITYincites, a 501c3 research company was created to fill a void that exists and that is to measure the attitudes, perceptions, consumptions and other behaviors of persons with disabilities. Having worked as a research practitioner for some and with the world’s largest research companies in the world, I saw first hand that the research design (something that is part of any research study) was not inclusive of people with disabilities. This impacts sample representativeness. To avoid under representation, of any segment, research companies over sample. The lack of sample representativeness is what biases any research study. The very, very few people with disabilities that manage to be recruited (as part of the random sampling process) are not classified as having a disability or in the rare instances where they are, the data isn’t accessible by end users for analysis, likely due to small sample size. The result in either case is exclusion.

    The research garnered from these syndicated research studies are used by end users for the application of not only advertising but also to uncover the unmet needs of the general population as well as a myriad of niche segments (e.g., GLBT community, seniors, affluent, African Americans, Asians, C-Suite Executives, etc). The exclusion is people with disabilities. People with disabilities represent the largest minority group in the US. They are 54 million in size (1 out of every 5 adults) and have a purchasing power of roughly $220 billion in the US alone.

    People with disabilities have the same aspirations as everyone else, but their journey to get there is different. With different journeys come different needs. Unless there is greater inclusion of people with disabilities in on-going, comprehensive research investigations, like those carried out daily for the general population and sub segments, the legacy continues with people with disabilities not being on the radar of companies and other entities that create for the purpose of addressing the needs and wants of their end users.

    The adages, “What isn’t measured doesn’t exist” and “You can’t manage what isn’t measured” ring true for people with disabilities. Through measurement of a different journey (that of disability), disABILITYincites aims to bring that journey to the forefront so that inventors, designers and innovators can create solutions that enable and empower people with disabilities to live happy, fulfilling and productive lives more easily. disABILITYincites is about inclusive measurement of people with disabilities to uncover their unmet needs. With numbers to quantify and qualify the largest minority group in the US, it is our hope that creation (albeit new products & services or ads for that matter) without representation (of people with disabilities that is) will be a thing of the past. A decade following the inclusion of Hispanics in syndicated market research and other needs-based research investigations, the segment enjoyed the benefit of higher levels of employment, household and individual income and a better quality of life overall. See the case study on our site at:

    Thank you.

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