In recent years, social justice has been a hot topic in marketing and advertising. There are many ways to implement social justice into advertising content, but it is important to know where you stand on the issue before starting. This blog post will walk you through ways that communications pros can authentically blend social justice ideals into marketing or advertising without compromising integrity.
What is Social Justice?
Social justice is a concept that embraces the need for varied perspectives and approaches to societal problems. It means having treating all people - regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or economic level - with dignity and respect.
Social justice also strives to address issues of racism and other systemic issues that plague American society and keep certain communities oppressed and in a state of fear and stagnation. The Black Lives Matter movement in particular focuses on the issues and obstacles that African-American communities have to deal with every day in America. BLM fights to end state-sanctioned violence, liberate Black people, and end white supremacy forever.
To achieve these progressive goals, social justice ideals must be implemented into marketing campaigns. To that end, it is important more companies implement a smart support strategy and timely initiatives to authentically foster this movement.
Why Do We Need Social Justice in Marketing?
Marketing that reflects social justice ideals will be much more relevant to a wider audience and create an inclusive space.
Advertising with social justice language appeals to all people, not just to those who fit into societal norms. This type of marketing makes it easier for companies to establish long-lasting relationships with their consumers via ethical behavior.
By implementing this, companies can avoid harm stemming from reputation loss, brand image damage, and negative backlash. But that's not the real reason to do it. Social justice can also attract the widest variety of consumers while maintaining a positive image. A mindful company is just good business, caring about society will show in your voice, your staff, and in your brand. Customers will see it.
Marketing that is inclusive and diverse allows all people to feel like they can be represented. It's the right thing to do from every business perspective!
Diversity and Inclusion
Now the question remains, how can businesses and organizations implement social justice into their marketing and advertising?
First, avoid generalizing on an entire culture or group of people. For example: “One size fits all” may not be the best slogan for shoes targeting men and women. Instead, say “…fits most” to be inclusive of both genders. The same goes for marketing-related events like concerts; if you're advertising as being open to everyone (i.e., "everyone's invited"), make sure that there are accommodations made so that disabled individuals can participate in what the event has to offer.
As an organization, don't just have one person representing your company who speaks on behalf of it during community outreach programs; instead, invite diverse groups from many different departments within your organization to participate in these outreach programs.
The way you present your product/service can be a form of social justice. For example, if you're marketing vegan products and showcasing them with images of people wearing fur or leather clothes, it might be seen as contradictory. Instead, showcase the vegan lifestyle by using photos of vegans who are dressed in the appropriate vegan attire.
Do proper research. It's key to understanding the focus of consumers and culture at large.
Social justice is not just about representation; it's also about giving back and creating a more socially-conscious world.
Companies can give back by offering discounts to those who are unemployed, donating to social causes that align with the brand's values, or implementing corporate social responsibility programs like volunteering at soup kitchens.
They could create sustainable products to reduce their carbon footprint, offer zero-waste packaging materials in all sizes of purchases, use recycled content on items where possible, or partner with organizations that work towards these goals.
Each company has its own unique journey when it comes to incorporating social justice into how they do business, but what is most important for companies is to know where they currently stand before making these changes. It is very important to always have an open dialogue about one’s intentions. It could take some time but it's always worth it in the end.
Many brands in recent years have taken to utilizing social justice in their marketing initiatives and strategy. Certain companies are now focusing on diversity via the inclusion of more models of different ethnicities, body types, and abilities.
For example, Christian Dior had an ad campaign called “I’m Your Mirror” which showed women from all walks of life looking back at themselves in various reflections in locations throughout Paris, such as mirrors inside changing rooms to embrace and love themselves. Statements like this can be powerful.
Campbell's Soup did an advertisement where actors from different races made soup. They were showing how this particular brand has the power to bring all people together.
Nike may be best known for having the "Just Do It” slogan, but they have also had a strong focus on promoting female athletes. Back in the early 2000s, Nike faced social justice backlash for child labor and working conditions, but the global brand is now one of the more socially responsible companies in the world. Nike is a great example of large companies changing with the times.
The importance of having people see themselves reflected realistically in advertising cannot be overemphasized. Data shows that ads are extremely influential on people's beliefs about themselves and their worldview.
A business can and should start by removing outdated stereotypes and images from advertisements as they come up with new ones. It’s time for businesses and organizations to support this level of solidarity and show their audience the same level of commitment.
The Importance of Diversity
With the massive population shift in America, companies who are not focused on diversity can easily fall behind. The lack of diversity seen in some advertisement campaigns can lead to customers feeling unwelcome and therefore, not interested in supporting the brand.
That’s why it’s essential to understand what social justice issues are relevant today. For example, if a company is selling sneakers, they would want to know how current gender norms, trends and labels affect people’s selection of footwear. Using the appropriate gender labels in campaigns is crucial to communicating progress. Knowing what beauty standards need improving and updating are important so companies can avoid perpetuating them with their ads. Notice who gets represented in media as beautiful and try to broaden those ideals to include those who are under-represented.
How to do Your Part?
Consider whether there are people of color or other under-represented groups that may not feel like they’re a part of your marketing efforts. Is the language you’re using inclusive? Does it make anyone uncomfortable? Does it leave anyone out? Here are some other tips:
- Do research into what is already being done by other brands and how they have been successful (or unsuccessful) in their roles as advertisers or marketers. You could try speaking with one of these companies about their experiences, make notes and find ways to be better.
- Consider your marketing message. Is it divisive or diverse? Does it make a community uncomfortable because they find the message insensitive, even if that was not your intention? Take the messages to those in the groups that you are trying to include for their take.
- If you're advertising for an event, consider who will be onstage at this event. Will it be a diverse representation of panelists or speakers? This not only applies to race and color, but also to gender orientation. All these things matter when making decisions about what messages to send out in public.
- Stating inclusiveness directly is a good form of communication. For example, "Join us for our annual conference where we welcome all genders with diverse backgrounds." This helps create a sense of belonging for all communities.
How Social justice Marketing can Benefit Children
Social justice in marketing can give children a healthy sense of self-esteem that they will carry throughout their lives. Diversity and equality in advertising can help give them the ambition and motivation for their future. From the stories we read in children’s books to the role models kids look up to, children benefit from seeing themselves reflected everywhere around them. Children learn to make sense of the world through stories - and communications is primarily storytelling.
If children see themselves reflected positively in stories that help build their self-esteem when they’re young, that will carry over into other areas of their lives - like physical activity or academic performance.
We need to make sure our children are learning about diversity early so we don’t perpetuate stereotypes as they grow into adults. The first step is understanding that there are different types of oppression: sexism, racism, ableism, even senior abuse - all affecting people in ways they may not even be fully aware of yet.
Take into account implementing social justice language into your campaign messages or creating a new product with this ideology built right in from the design stage.
Social justice is not only about boycotts, protests or canceling the latest celebrity for mean tweets 10 years ago. It's also about forming authentic social connections with people from different cultures, backgrounds and economic experiences.
To create a more inclusive marketing world, we need to be mindful of the language that is used in ads as well as creating spaces for discussions on topics such as race, gender, and ability.
We have to stop thinking there are easy solutions like "just don't buy it," because these types of statements can often lead to defensiveness or feelings of exclusion. Don’t tell people what they cannot do; instead, tell people what they can do. That is a much more positive message.
In order for social justice ideals and language to become ingrained into our advertising practices, it requires companies to take active roles in changing their policies, as well as changing the way they market their products. A company's focus should be to give access and support to people who need them.
Companies have to be willing to challenge themselves and rethink how they approach marketing. It requires taking an honest look at how we are all complicit when it comes to social justice issues because advertising is just one aspect of society that reinforces certain dominant ideals or norms.
We need large and small organizations that will step up and take on these challenges because we have the power to create long-lasting change together.