2022 was a year of storytelling to build community for diverse audiences. From amazing movies like “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” and “Everything Everywhere All At Once”, to watching Serena give her last fight on the court and beyond, content and stories by, for and with BIPOC, LGBTQ+, disabled and other historically marginalized communities abound. As we look to inclusive marketing in 2023, one thing is clear, centering historically marginalized communities in brands is essential today, tomorrow and always.
While brands–from entertainment companies to fashion brands and more–work to center these stories and groups, it’s crucial to understand that the work to invest in these historically marginalized communities will never be done; building community is a journey, not a destination and one that brands must continue to iterate on over the long-term. Brands’ work to engage with and reflect the values of key constituencies will continue long after companies have reached benchmarks, checked goals off their list and reported on their progress. Supporting companies to engage in long-term culture change
So, this year, we’re sharing some of the most powerful stories across brands, entertainment and new media in an effort to lay the groundwork for how brands can build community in the quiet and loud moments in 2023–and how they can continue to orient their work toward the future.
This past year more than ever, we saw brands creating space for content by and for communities of color. Whether it was Serena and Beyoncé talking about love for Black women with Gatorade, Our Place devoting space on its social channels for people to share what they cook for Diwali, Eid and Lunar New Year, or FENTY continuing to break barriers with a product that represented the needs of consumers across skin tones, sizes and genders, many brands learned that authentically engaging with communities means passing the mic—creating real space for BIPOC people to share and connect over their lived experiences.
Creating space in branded content for communities of color was about far more than just publicity. Looking at a specific sector, retail brands that shifted the spotlight in their marketing and on their shelves saw financial gains amid a fledgling economy. For example, born out of the racial reckoning of 2020, our client Fifteen Percent Pledge has challenged retailers to dedicate 15 percent of their shelf space to Black-owned brands. What started as a digital campaign has now resulted in 28 retailers shifting almost $10 billion of revenue to Black-owned businesses.
This shift in representation is about more than a single company and/or an individual brand. Ultimately, brands stepping up and leading the way creates a network effect for others to follow and realize diversity is about more than what’s right—diversity is a business model. With people pinching pennies in a struggling economy and consumers looking to spend their cash on products that align with their values, more brands centering communities of color is not just a good idea—it’s essential for their survival.
Movies, music, museums and more; scroll through your streaming and music platforms today and you’ll find a flood of content from blockbuster hits like “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” and the “Little Mermaid” centering Black people to “Bros” bringing an LGBTQ+ rom-com to the masses to “Love on The Spectrum” capturing hearts as a reality series about people on the autism spectrum finding love, to Bad Bunny capturing more than 18.5 billion streams on Spotify in 2022, to museums like the Guggenheim beginning to expand the bounds of the art they curate.
It’s no surprise this shift is noticeable; according to the Geena Davis Institute on Media, content featuring characters with medium and dark skin tones now makes up about 30 percent of the content available to watch (up from just 13 percent a decade ago). Content by and about BIPOC, LGBTQ+, disabled and other historically marginalized communities used to be hard to come by, yet more and more it seems opportunities to connect with characters who look, love and live like people all over the world are endless.
The stories we tell and how we tell them matter. Stories in our lives—and certainly on screen—have the power to transport, comfort, connect and inspire. They have the power to demonstrate how we show up in the world and for each other. Presenting a plethora of options on screen is certainly good business for studios looking to sell tickets to the masses. But, perhaps more importantly, people now have the freedom to pursue content that reflects interests and passions instead of searching high and low for their reflection.
Over the last few decades, digital media became a space for people to write their own stories and connect with communities that shared their identities. Instead of waiting for entertainment studios to catch up and represent real communities, anyone, anywhere could write their own story and broadcast it on social platforms. Online platforms created new ways for people to find community.
With the ability for individuals to reach the masses, online platforms became the bedrock of movements like Arab Spring, Me Too and Black Lives Matter. However, this past year, a shift in platform regulation that made way for disinformation, hate speech and white nationalism reached an apex with Twitter gutting its staff dedicated to protecting users and Facebook continuing to earn revenue from hate groups. This left the BIPOC, LGBTQ+, disabled and other historically marginalized communities that had used online platforms to gather, share and organize decidedly unsafe.
Against this backdrop, the organizations that had used social platforms to fight for justice for decades led the charge to hold social media platforms accountable for protecting communities. Whether it was organizations banding together to pause ads on platforms that value profits over hate, bigotry, racism, antisemitism and disinformation or leaders like Color of Change’s Rashad Robinson, a long-term partner of our firm, demanding accountability from tech leaders at the top, brands and leaders that had built their community online stood up to protect their people on the heels of privacy and moderation concerns that would be detrimental to the safety of historically marginalized communities.
While the news about the platforms themselves is evolving about as fast as trending hashtags, the success of the community energy and mobilization around the #StopHateForProfit campaign made one thing clear: communities still can and will gather online to drive change.
Representation matters as we continue to shatter stereotypes through storytelling. While we’ve evolved our entertainment choices from shows and movies that simply check the box on one-dimensional characters to represent entire communities, it’s imperative that we celebrate and center the varied experiences of Muslim Americans, biracial Gen Z, millennial moms and every other audience subset listed in marketing briefs across companies and industries. No one story can represent an entire community, which is why audience insights matter more than ever.
As time ticks on spanning from when many companies made commitments in 2020 to address inequities to now, as they begin to look at a recession-era budget, many may turn to Diversity, Equity & Inclusion and Cultural Competency as areas where they can afford to pull back. But take caution; doing so will be detrimental not just to the communities they represent, but also for the brands themselves. In 2023 and beyond, brands must employ tailored strategies to ensure their core audiences feel seen, heard and included. They must continue to create products that truly meet the needs of diverse audiences, program and award content that brings BIPOC, LGBTQ+ and disabled stories front and center as part of core programming and advocate for spaces to truly engage with their communities online. After all, these factors directly influence purchase intent and build engaged brand fans and loyalists.