The marketing industry needs to step up to tackle inequality, according to the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) and its Alliance for Inclusive & Multicultural Marketing (AIMM) division. Stephen Whiteside, WARC’s Reports Editor, breaks down some of their recommended next steps.

The Association of National Advertisers (ANA), the trade body, and its Alliance for Inclusive & Multicultural Marketing (AIMM) unit, have issued a rallying cry to tackle the entrenched biases and malign practices that seemingly forever have blocked diversity and inclusivity in the marketing industry.

Black Lives Matter

This article is part of an ongoing WARC series focused on educating brand marketers on diversity and activism, in light of the recent progressive steps made with the Black Lives Matter movement.

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Following on from the wave of protests prompted by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on 25 May, the ANA and AIMM – which includes brands, media companies, research firms, industry groups and agencies, and boasts representation across the African American, Asian American, Hispanic and LGBTQ communities – sent an impassioned letter to their boards of directors and full memberships.

Specifically, they pledged “to do everything in our individual and collective power to end systemic racism and achieve equality and justice” in the marketing and advertising industries.

“There is no greater urgency than that of addressing the systemic racism, injustice, and inequalities plaguing our country. We will use our platforms to ensure we use our resources and voices as a force for good and a force for change,” their letter read.

Alongside highlighting their support for Black and Brown communities, the letter outlined the need for an “unflinching” examination of the marketing industry’s history and current practices in order to “shine a light on systemic and institutional bias” that still exist today.

“We can no longer accept the failings of many of our diversity and inclusion initiatives. We commit to examining why they fail and what action is needed to advance. And we commit to interventions that will have an immediate and sustained impact on equality, inclusion, and systemic change in our ecosystem and in our society,” it added.

One telling datapoint emerged in an ANA/AIMM survey of marketing executives that was unveiled at a recent online conference held by the two organizations.

This poll of 219 marketing professionals – representing advertisers, agencies, consultancies and media industries – was conducted from 10–27 April, meaning the results are indicative of the industry’s thinking before Floyd’s tragic death last month.

And it found that a majority of companies were planning to reduce their focus on multicultural and inclusive marketing in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In fact, more than 50% of the April interviewees were scheduled to eliminate or reduce their planned Q3–Q4 spend aimed at African Americans, Hispanic consumers, Asian Americans, the LGBTQ+ communities, and disabled consumers – compared with a total of 46% for the overall market:

This insight mirrors a point of anxiety previously outlined by Marc Pritchard, chief brand officer at consumer-packaged goods manufacturer Procter & Gamble and chairman of the ANA. Pritchard had warned that efforts at inclusivity often “take a step back” in periods of disruption – and encouraged his colleagues to double down on this vital activity rather than pulling back.

“The people who are the most vulnerable – the most marginalized, the people who have been historically discriminated against – tend to have suffered disproportionately during these times of crisis. We also see rises in in racism and hate crimes and those kinds of things,” Pritchard said during a virtual event held by trade title Adweek.

“And what’s so distressing about it is that the very people who are marginalized and discriminated against are those who are on the frontlines, who are keeping this country going – [and] keeping the world going for that matter.”

Manoj Raghunandanan, global president of Johnson & Johnson’s Self Care unit, has similarly called on the marketing community to step up in a time of crisis. “What I don’t want to do is trivialize what is an incredibly complex situation of racial injustice in America by boiling it down to a problem that can be solved by marketing. It can’t,” he told an ANA webinar.

Even as marketers must act with the requisite level of humility, “that doesn’t mean that we can’t play a role,” Raghunandanan continued. “We can do more. We need to move faster. We have to have a voice.”

The recommendations in the ANA/AIMM letter can perhaps help brand custodians in reaching that goal. And they were:

• Issue yearly diversity reports that include “clear actionable steps and guidelines to achieve leadership and functional parity.”

• Pursue “courageous” internal conversations and work with Employee Resource Groups to better understand the “systemic inequalities” in the marketing industry and establish programs to fix them.

• Boost spending on multicultural marketing so that it reflects “the representation of the multicultural consumer in society”.

Accelerate AIMM’s “#SeeALL” campaign, which champions the accurate portrayal of race, identity and culture in advertising and media.

• Demand rigorous multicultural/inclusive data from measurement providers to ensure brands can connect with, and attribute growth to, the right segments.

• Rate all ads and programming using AIMM’s Cultural Insights Impact Measure, which attributes an index score to this material.

• Address supply chain inequality through proportionate investment in agencies, broadcasters, producers and suppliers that are owned or run by members of the Black, Hispanic, Asian, LGBTQ+ and disabled communities.

• Build cross-industry partnerships to increase understanding of diverse communities.