The 5 Keys to Successfully Marketing Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

It is hardly an understatement to say it’s important to celebrate audiences of different backgrounds through diversity, equity and inclusion in marketing and advertising. Brands the world over know this. The challenges are many and as Jason Rosario, Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer for BBDO astutely points out that not only are consumers holding brands accountable, but there is also an opportunity cost to ‘getting it wrong.’

Last year, System1 released the Feeling Seen USA report, which uses data from our audience insights platform and our advertising insights platform to explore and celebrates the benefits of inclusive advertising as seen through the eyes of real, diverse audiences and details how brands and viewers both win when advertising broadens its scope.

Most recently, I was proud to serve as moderator for a webinar that explored the findings of the report as well as provided best practices for marketers so they can apply the insights to their future advertising campaigns. I was joined by Ty Heath, Director of Market Engagement for The B2B Institute at LinkedIn; Robert T. Chin, President/Head of Spirits at Combs Global; and Marina Sachs, Global Strategic Marketing – Animal Health at Boehringer Ingelheim.

I’ve outlined the key takeaways to consider for advertising that effectively applies DE&I to entertain audiences while authentically portraying the experiences of underrepresented groups.

Marketers are responsible and response able

An important part of our discussion was the fact that marketers have the power to drive meaningful change. Marketers are responsible for bringing customers’ perspectives and voices from the external market into their organizations. They need to ensure that the conversations in the boardroom, the office and the media are transformative. And as Ty made clear, once a marketer commits to leading on DE&I, he or she must be accountable and let that commitment be the driver of the actions the brand takes.

“Brand touches every department. The consumer brand is also the talent brand, employee brand and shareholder brand. Marketers need to claim more territory around supporting DE&I efforts, around supporting talent acquisition efforts, because the brand is actually in service of all of those things.” – Ty Heath, Director of Market Engagement, The B2B Institute at LinkedIn

Diverse and inclusive storytelling resonates with nearly everyone, when it’s done well

As Ty notes, there’s a myth that certain stories are for certain audiences – that an ad featuring a historically excluded group of people means the ad will only speak to them. In fact, we’re all hungry for real, emotional stories. The Feeling Seen research found that viewers love ads that incorporate and celebrate diversity.

“Human beings are story processors. And marketers are in the memory business. The brand that’s remembered is the brand that’s bought, and stories are powerful tools for accomplishing that.” – Ty Heath, Director of Market Engagement, The B2B Institute at LinkedIn

In our extensive Test Your Ad database of more than 100,000 ads, only 1% of ads score 5-Stars on our scale from 1.0 to 5.9. Most land in the 2-Star range. By comparison, the average for the ads tested as part of our Feeling Seen report is 3.8-Stars. And many of these ads score ever better among the audiences they are portraying, such as Asian Americans, people with disabilities and the LGBTQ+ community. This uplift in an ad’s effectiveness among the target audience is what we call a Diversity Dividend in market research. These viewers feel seen and acknowledged. Therefore, it’s in brands’ best interest to invest in engaging and authentic ads that showcase inclusivity.

The melting pot approach doesn’t match today’s landscape

The ‘melting pot’ has been a common metaphor for diversity in America, but it emphasizes that people of different backgrounds, races, religions and cultures will assimilate together. Its core focus is transitioning our society from heterogeneous to homogeneous. It fails to recognize and celebrate the uniqueness of people and the importance of retaining and sharing different traditions and viewpoints.

“The practice of putting a number of people from different backgrounds in an ad is shallow representation. For some people, it feels inauthentic and diluted.” – Robert T. Chin, President/Head of Spirits, Combs Global

Our research found that the ‘loud and proud’ and ‘taking a stand’ approaches are the most effective at celebrating and supporting a particular group or person from a particular group. Brands have a very small window in which to capture the audience’s attention – telling one powerful story is better than trying to appeal to everyone.

Brands need to back up their DE&I commitments in their hiring processes and at every level of the organization

As Robert points out, it’s a reasonable assumption that the companies that are putting diversity front and center in their marketing are also doing so in their hiring practices. DE&I is part of their DNA across all areas of the business. This is important because consumers are smart. They can see through disingenuous commitments to initiatives like DE&I, sustainability and mental health. They’re able to pull back the curtain and call out companies whose actions don’t match what they saying externally.

“[DE&I] really needs to be on everyone’s agendas, from the top of the organization to the bottom. If it’s not, it’s going to get stuck in a shallow mode of action.” – Marina Sachs, Global Strategic Marketing – Animal Health, Boehringer Ingelheim

Having DE&I as a top priority across different departments and levels of an organization also benefits innovation and growth. This is because welcoming different perspectives and having a deeper understanding of consumers and their varying cultures and experiences enable brands to develop better products and services.

Marketers need to identify the right creative partners and give them direction, not instruction

Before brands build the creative brief, they need to have a partner that has a shared responsibility in moving beyond stereotyping and ‘checking the box’. The right agency partner can help brands get out of the safeness of the status quo. When it comes to DE&I, marketers need to have the courage to take risks, as our report proves that these risks can pay off if audience research and emotional storytelling is prioritized. And then, it’s important for marketers to allow their partners – the experts – to execute the creative brief in the right way.

“One of the mistakes I see marketers make is give too much instruction versus direction. Instruction is ‘I want three people in a shot. I want them to be this race. I want them to be 25 years old.’ Versus ‘I want a piece of high-end creative that incorporates diversity’”. – Robert T. Chin, President/Head of Spirits, Combs Global


At System1, we help the world’s largest advertisers make confident creative decisions that lead to transformational business results. Our powerful ad testing platform (Test Your Ad) and our idea testing platform (Test Your Idea) help brands predict the commercial potential of ads and ideas. Complementing TYA and TYI is Test Your Brand, our brand testing tool which measures the impact of ads and ideas on brand health, ensuring long-term brand growth through predictive success.

Get in touch or book a demo with one of our experts to learn more.