One Nation, Under Ads

As someone who loves pop culture, I’ve always enjoyed commercials. Sappy, funny, downright terrible — these 30ish second snippets have an appeal. Saturday morning cartoons meant being force-fed car insurance or a sale on bar-b-ques every few minutes as a kid.

And while we might have skipped them sometimes…

Today, as a marketing strategist, they continue to grab my attention. Now, though, I’m looking for trends and clues as to where our industry–and our society–is going.

Television commercials are one way we can see cultural themes emerge, in real time. Sometimes they quite literally show us what we are or should be talking about. We can learn quite a bit about current worries, cares and important topics, and even get sneak peeks into where we’re heading next.

Some of my heavier TV watching comes every four years when global attention turns to the Olympics. Like many people, I try to watch as much as I can live, which means — you guessed it — solid commercial consumption.

While watching the 2022 Winter Games, I noticed a clear cultural theme emerge in the commercials: diversity and inclusion.

Check out some of the messaging these big brands aired during the Beijing Olympics:

Toyota: movement belongs to all of us

Visa: powering participation

Delta: the ends of the earth are not that far apart

Samsung: united by passion

Heck, even the motto for the Olympics themselves was together for a shared future.

And it’s going beyond messaging. Product design is also responding to a call for more awareness and action around diversity and inclusion. One commercial that caught my attention was for the new Pixel phone. After almost two centuries in existence, cameras are finally being better designed, AdAge said, “to accurately capture diverse skin tones.” Lizzo, a cultural movement in her own right, took front and center in this ad for Pixel’s Real Tone technology.

So if diversity and inclusion is at the forefront of big brand advertising, what can we take from it?

For every marketer: if you’re looking for inspiration, these commercials are a solid source.

You may assume, as I do, that if a company like Toyota or Visa is spending megabucks to air a commercial during the Olympics, they based that commercial on research and intelligence.

I can’t get you the exact numbers on research spend. In fact, some companies are even hesitant to let you know they worked with an agency (See Coinbase’s Superbowl misstep in not crediting the Martin Agency). So, let’s just say the spend is very likely and likely very high.

What that tells me is that at least one person with a bleep-ton of influence at each of these companies thinks diversity and inclusion messaging will positively impact the company’s brand, sales or both.

Assuming such messaging is authentic to your brand, why not capitalize on that and integrate a diversity and inclusion message into your own marketing campaigns?

While that might sound great, maybe you work for a company whose marketing budget doesn’t allow for expensive tests, focus groups, or outsourcing to agencies. Trust me, I get it. You can find clever ways to leverage this trend on a smaller scale. A social post, blog post or print ad that showcases your brand’s commitment to inclusion or other company values can catch the attention of your target audience just like the commercials referenced above caught mine.

These are a couple of recent social media posts from my own team. All impactful, low risk and easy to produce:

For everyone: Big brands are listening (or at least some of them are) and this is a source of hope.

The commercials referenced above were produced by mainstream, B2C, global companies with virtually unlimited resources that can advertise any message they want. Choosing to feature diversity and inclusion to an Olympic-sized audience indicates they are paying attention.

While someone at each of these companies thinks diversity and inclusion messaging will contribute to sales, we can hope that someone (ideally many people) also truly values diversity and inclusion.

Everyone in marketing knows that one of the keys to selling a product or service is demonstrating that you “understand” the people you’re selling to. Will a few commercials serve as a stand-in for much needed policy changes? Of course not. But they do suggest understanding, and that’s a step.

Let’s Talk Taking Your Digital Marketing to the Next Level

If this has you thinking about your brand, marketing and inspirations, good! Keep the conversation going, or get it started with your peers.

Here are a few things to ask your team:

  • What patterns do you see from messaging to products to calls to action?
  • What benefits or blowback have these companies drawn for their ad creative? Are sales soaring? Are they getting lambasted for an ad that doesn’t reflect company culture?
  • Where has other messaging around cultural values done well?
  • What inspiration from these recent ads can you leverage for content needs? You never know when you’ll see a trend you can make use of.

We wrap up by sending up a bravo to the companies I discussed, and others not called out here, for boldly stepping forward to present the exact vision many people are longing to see. Speaking of which, which other ads stood out to you that showcased diversity and inclusion? Drop a line and let me know.

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Erin McReynolds is a marketing nerd, hip hop enthusiast, newbie snowboarder, lifelong Ravenclaw.

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Erin McReynolds

Erin McReynolds

Erin McReynolds is a marketing nerd, hip hop enthusiast, newbie snowboarder, lifelong Ravenclaw.

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