Recognizing the Power of Product Placement to Drive Connection Through Inclusivity

People hold puzzle jigsaw, challenge concept set, holding colorful puzzle pieces

By Jordan Usdin, SVP Client Development, BEN

Diversity and inclusion have gone past being simply black or white. Consumers now expect brands they support and buy goods from to be aware of issues and considerations based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and other factors that are part of individual identities. And, while 61% of U.S. consumers say that diversity in advertising is important to them, their feedback notes that marketing and advertising misses the mark in delivering authentic messaging that creates lasting connections.

For instance, 66% of African Americans and 53% of Hispanics in the U.S. report  their ethnicity is portrayed stereotypically in ads according to an Adobe study. Considering that racial and ethnic minorities make up nearly 40% of the population (U.S. Census) and LGBT self-identification now tops 7% (Gallup), it should be concerning to brands that their messaging aimed specifically at diverse audiences is not only missing the mark but turning off consumers. As groups once termed minorities become the majority of Americans, brands need to connect with these consumers in order to survive and thrive.

While marketers might draw the conclusion that a significant investment in improving their ad messaging is needed, a considerable number are already trying a different tactic. They’re using the power of authentic storytelling through television, movies and music videos to connect with key consumers. By getting inside popular content with product placement that consumers are seeking out themselves, the stories brands align with are guaranteeing real connection with diverse audiences in ways that traditional advertising simply cannot.

One brand that successfully used entertainment, particularly music, to show their commitment to diversity and inclusion is Durex, a leading brand of condoms and personal lubricants. Durex was looking to reach the LGBTQ+ community and center its brand identity on embracing sexual fluidity. During pride month, Durex partnered with Lil Nas X to be featured in his music video for “That’s What I Want,” which received over 30M views in the first week. The video spoke to safe sex in same-sex relationships, successfully communicating Durex’s commitment to diversity, love and acceptance. This partnership alone in the first 30 days garnered 52.9M views on YouTube and all time is at 132M. Old Navy also successfully tapped into entertainment to highlight their commitment to creating clothing for people of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds. Through a product feature in the GLAAD award-winning series Queer Eye, Old Navy saw a 22% increase in positive responses to the statement “Old Navy offers clothing for all body types” and a 20% increase to the statement, “Its clothing has a diverse range of consumers.” (BEN)

If brands want to make real and lasting impressions among consumers about their commitment to DE&I, finding the right partnerships is key. Partnering with a musician like Lil Nas X, whose beliefs align with Durex’s, has allowed the brand’s inclusive identity and commitment to the LGBTQ+ community to shine. It’s also created a moment in entertainment that will be remembered every time fans return to the video. Similarly, Old Navy’s values of “inclusion, equality and belonging” are also prominent themes in Queer Eye.

Brands need to make sure their purpose-based messaging and long-term actions are aligned. For example, Durex’s commitment to safe sex no matter who you love isn’t just a priority during pride month; this is an evergreen “always-on” message the brand wants to convey to consumers. This alignment helps DE&I efforts act as an extension of brands’ overall marketing strategy rather than something separate from it. The marketing efforts of Durex and Old Navy rang true with consumers because they were aligned with the brands’ longstanding commitment to embracing and loving all peoples’ differences.

That being said, there is a fine line between fostering inclusivity to align with brand ethos and being opportunistic. As Google noted “Diverse marketing isn’t just a box you can tick. There are so many layers to diversity beyond gender and skin color. It’s also about age. Geography, socioeconomic diversity. Relatable jobs. Abilities. Sexuality. So, whether it is behind the camera, on screen or a seat at the table, make sure there are people that represent real life to ensure stories are being told authentically and represented correctly.”

Until recently, getting inside popular content with product placement may have been seen as a luxury opportunity for marketers. Now, it is a necessity at a time when a brands’ values and purpose need to align with an increasingly diverse consumer base.