It is 2020, and I cannot believe that I am writing about yet another brand who’ve come under fire for not being diverse enough. Very recently on Twitter, I saw a tweet about an award-winning journalist from Glamour who’d been invited to a virtual skincare launch, only to be met with an exclusively, and downright offensive, light range of skin tones.
Tweeting: “When you’re obvs the only brown person at a beauty launch and NOBODY else questions the shade range….where are my allies at now?”, Anita Bhagwandas also shared an image of the range she’d been insulted by, later revealing they were products of beauty brand Decorte.
The post has since racked up 542 retweets, 4.5k likes and 66 quotes to date. People are understandably outraged. Myself included.
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated issue.
Most brands are only recently adapting their marketing to be more inclusive, covering gender, race, religion, size, age and more. This hasn’t necessarily been rolled out across the board, though, and still, I see so many getting it wrong.
The inclusivity issue even boils down to things as simple as plasters. When was the last time you walked into a supermarket, for example, and purchased a plaster that was anything other than a creamy white skin tone? In most places now you can buy printed plasters with children’s characters on, but as far as I know only one major retailer – Tesco – actually offer a diverse range. Recognising that surprisingly, not every skin tone is caucasian.
Even Tesco themselves coupled the launch with the slogan ‘it’s about bloody time’.
And consequently, herein lies the issue.
The abhorrent lack of diversity in 2020 is dumbfounding. Quite rightly, when it’s called out, there is often outrage.
My friend Orlagh Claire wrote a really excellent blog on why brands need diversity in marketing back in June, and it gives fantastic examples of where companies have gotten it wrong time and time again. Honestly, I recommend you give it a read for a more in-depth look at the issue.
Today, I wanted to talk about whether a lack of diversity, can be the death of a brand altogether.
We already know that change is instrumental to business survival, so if brands can’t adapt to be inclusive will the damage to their reputation be impossible to reconcile?
Is A Lack Of Diversity Killing Brands?
One brand that has filed for administration during the Covid-19 pandemic, is Victoria’s Secret. Or at least their arm in the UK.
The lingerie and leisurewear brand is still seeking a buyer, according to administrator Deloitte and there are no immediate risks to the business going under completely. However, this is a company that has a plethora of issues, from business model to marketing strategies. Whilst I feel for those who have jobs on the line, I can’t help but thinking that troubled waters were inevitable sooner or later for this company.
There’s a really great article from Sahar Nazir at the Retail Gazette which covers exactly what went wrong for Victoria’s Secret. In 2016, for instance, brand was accused of cultural appropriation. They have also long been scrutinised for their ‘fashion week’ shows which were populated by slim white female models. Though this might have historically been their ‘brand’, their range simply did not appeal to the most of us.
And then there’s not to mention the issues with employing an all-white model crew, of course.
Though there were probably a lot of factors that played a part in the inevitable demise of the Victoria’s Secret UK arm, I can’t help but wonder if they’d have been more inclusive, earlier, would they still have the same issue? Sure, their products were notorious for being pricey and only appealing to a certain demographic, but I don’t doubt that the lack of marketing to a wider range of consumers had something to do with them calling in the administrators this year too.
Will other brands meet the same fate if they cannot adjust their dated business models? I guess only time will tell, but it’s a question well worth asking.
What Role Can PRs Play?
I noticed that in the replies to the tweet by Antia Bhagwandas that I mentioned above, she was reluctant to name and shame the brand, on account of the PR company who represented Decorte being very kind and proffessional.
Undoubtedly, product range is not something the communications team would likely get a say in. Very seldom does PR get a say in NPD, until it’s time to market what’s been produced.
This can cause a whole host of issues, as it’s much easier to promote a product or service that you’ve been involved with from the outset, and then there’s also the problem that presents itself in this specific situation… When a brand is publicly shamed for missing the mark, it’s very rarely the fault of the PR team. It is they, however, who have to rectify it. So is there more that we can do, as PRs, to ensure that brands are being diverse in their offering, and are ticking all the boxes before it’s time to sell?
Silence is compliance, but of course, it’s not always easy to go right to the top to voice your concerns. In an ideal world, all departments of a business would at least have a say in product development, but that’s not always the way it works.
I guess PRs can help by communicating current trends and climates to external members of their team – not everyone will be tuned in the way that we often are when we work in communications, so missing the mark perhaps might happen more often. Of course, this is no excuse and your moral compass should not be dictated by current affairs.
So this brings me to the question, should PRs even be working with and promoting brands that aren’t fully inclusive? It’s certainly a tough ask, but I can imagine it’s extraordinarily difficult to lobby a product that you don’t believe in yourself. From the sounds of it, the PR agency working with Decorte did their very best with the situation, and really, the responsibility falls on the very top of the pyramid to do better.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below, or, as always, on Twitter.
A little note from me to say…
Vuelio kindly let me know recently, that nominations for the Influencer Awards 2020 are now open. They have a PR & comms category, which would include me. If anyone did fancy nominating me. Well, I’d be very grateful ☺️