A call for more inclusion

In her latest editorial, editor Emily Wexler pontificates on what "normal" in advertising should really be.

This story appears in the April issue of strategy. ST.APR15_coverFINAL

I recently asked a friend who is gay what he thought of two commercials that featured same-sex couples – the Tide commercial and “The Cheerios Effect” spot.

He couldn’t really recall the Cheerios commercial at first, but when I reminded him that it was about a couple and their adopted daughter, he said it was a nice ad that seemed natural and authentic (probably helped by the fact that they were real people and not actors).

The Tide commercial, on the other hand, stood out to him and felt a bit…forced. He said it came across as if it was specifically going after a gay demographic, and he wondered why. He noted that the commercial felt a little heavy-handed in highlighting the couple’s “gay-ness.” He would have rather seen a Tide commercial that features a couple who happen to be gay, than an ad that seemed to be about a gay couple specifically. All that being said, he acknowledged that it was still a step forward, and nice to see.

What he said echoes Max Valiquette’s point in our feature about inclusion in advertising. There’s a subtle difference between marketing to a specific group and marketing to everyone whose world happens to include that group. Another P&G brand, Swiffer, really got it right when it featured a dad who happens to be an amputee. It wasn’t about evoking sympathy or showing strength, he was simply a guy who had challenges cleaning hard-to-reach places, just like the rest of us.

And that is what the new normal should be. An acknowledgement that there are different types of people in the world, but at the end of the day, we’re all just people with a lot of the same thoughts and struggles. TV shows like Modern Family and Glee have gone a long way in normalizing what has been considered “different.” And the internet has certainly made the world smaller and less mysterious.

But it’s telling that we’re still taken aback when we see a gay couple in a commercial for a household product, mostly because it’s a space we’re not used to seeing them in. Advertisers, naturally, are concerned with the bottom line. If there’s a chance you could alienate your target demographic in some way, thus hurting sales, chances are you won’t take that risk.

On the other hand, if you don’t expand your horizons beyond featuring the white, 35-year-old suburban mom, you could be missing out on new customers. And don’t underestimate that suburban mom either – she might be more inclined to buy your product if she sees that you’re representing her friends and neighbours as well.

Advertising is playing catch-up to the rest of society, and it has a lot of catching up to do. Perhaps, then, we should consider advertising the true test of inclusion. When we don’t bat an eye seeing someone beyond the conventional norm in an ad, we’ve reached normalization. It’s your move then, advertisers. Do you want to constantly play catch-up, or do you want to lead the charge?