- Content marketing
Brands and media outlets are still missing the mark - and potential income - when it comes to inclusivity. It’s time to make some changes.
In February 2019, a story appeared in The Daily Mail’s Femail magazine and Mail Online titled, ‘What the beauty gurus buy.’ This double page spread included interviews with the likes of Thea Green, the founder of Nails Inc., Jo Malone, founder of Jo Loves and Jo Malone London (now owned by Estée Lauder) and Sarah Chapman, a world-renowned facialist who treats Victoria Beckham and the Duchess of Sussex, on the products they like to buy themselves.
The story was accompanied by a shot of all the women together in a very ‘Vanity Fair’ style set-up and it was predictably unimaginative with each woman recommending something from their own brand. However, the story’s lack of imagination wasn’t what drew hundreds of scathing comments from women around the world on social media and the Mail Online comments section. It was this: of the 11 women interviewed and photographed for the story, every single one was white.
After the story picked up a few negative comments, Estée Laundry (an anonymously-run Instagram account and the beauty industry’s answer to Diet Prada) posted a brutal takedown of the feature and the journalist who wrote it.
The criticism quickly spilled over onto the writer’s personal Instagram account with one user commenting, 'While I love the topic of this article, it would have been amazing to profile some women of colour who are also considered ‘beauty gurus’. The connotations of only profiling white women has such a negative effect on young black and brown girls wanting to crack the beauty world. The lack of representation of BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) specifically within the beauty industry is (still) shocking, and we really need journalists like yourself to help change this and celebrate diversity in all its forms.'
Another user commented: 'This feature warrants criticism as black and brown women deserve to be seen. You should have kept trying.' To which the journalist replied: 'Kept trying - it sounds like you’re suggesting I should have included any BAME women for tokenal [sic] reasons. That’s not how I work.'
Who's right? Whatever your feelings about the piece, one thing is apparent – the writer, her editor, and everyone else at the magazine who worked on bringing this story together are guilty of being completely out of touch and the writer’s anti-tokenism justification doesn’t wash.
How is it that a feature can pass by numerous editors and producers without the question of diversity being raised? Interestingly, the many Femail staffers the writer thanked on Instagram were all - you guessed it - white.
A lack of diversity in advertising and editorial is nothing new. When I started out in magazines over a decade ago, my editor told me using a black cover star was a sure fire way of ensuring your magazine languished on the shelves. The belief was, if you want to sell magazines, your cover star must be white and preferably blonde. British Vogue, which is now edited by Edward Enninful, has debunked this; of the 17 issues put out since Enninful took the helm, nine of those have featured women of ethnicities other than white and WWD reports that while circulation of British fashion and lifestyle titles is down 6%, sales of British Vogue have actually increased by 1.1%. This increase will, in part, be down to the fact that readers finally feel 'seen'.
As a white woman and an editor, I have to acknowledge there are certain stories I am not in a position to write but, at the same time, I must be cautious and never fall into lazy habits where my BAME writers only write stories relating to ethnicity. Freelance writer Ella Wilks-Harper articulates the complexities of commissioning in an excellent piece she wrote for Gal-Dem a couple of years back and it’s worth a read if your job entails working with content creators.
Diversity equals opportunity
Whether you're casting a shoot, commissioning a story or shooting a beauty product, it’s vital your content reflects the complexities of your audience. In the past, I have been told by art teams to shoot lighter shades of foundation as, to their creative eye at least, dark foundation shades look harsh against the white space of a magazine page. This is obviously nonsense.
Creating inclusive content is not about tokenism; it’s the right thing to do and it makes good financial sense. According to the 2018 report Black Dollars Matter: The Sales Impact of Black Consumers, African Americans account for just 14% of the US pollution but they are responsible for $1.2 trillion in purchases a year. The report then goes on to explain: ‘Black consumers' choices have a ‘cool factor’ that has created a halo effect, influencing not just consumers of colour but the mainstream as well.'
Can things ever go too far?
As brands and media outlets make strides towards diversity, should every piece of content feature male, female, young, old, able, disabled, every skin tone, every hair colour, straight, gay, trans, bi and non-binary? At what point are we going too far?
When Rihanna unveiled her first Fenty Beauty campaign in 2017, she was praised for her inclusivity; finally, here was a brand that properly represented the women who would be buying its products. However, a fan remarked on Twitter: 'Fenty Beauty campaign is awesome, next time you record something, you should invite a trans girl to the group.'
Rihanna promptly responded with, “I’ve had the pleasure of working with many gifted trans women throughout the years, but I don’t go around doing trans castings! Just like I don’t do straight, non trans castings! I respect all women, and whether they’re trans or not is none of my business! It’s personal and some trans women are more comfortable being open about it than others so I have to respect that as a woman myself! I don’t think it’s fair that a trans woman, or man, be used as a convenient marketing tool! Too often do I see companies doing this to trans and black women alike! There’s always just that one spot in the campaign for the token ‘we look made diverse’ girl/guy! It’s sad!'
The way to navigate this is to use your common sense. Ask yourself: does your content reflect the diversity and complexities of your audience? You should want your content to properly reflect society; to not do so will make you look woefully out of touch. Diversity equals opportunity: to feel included is a wonderful thing and if your current content doesn’t reflect the eclectic mix of people in society, you have to ask yourself why. Finally, if you make a mistake, own it and show that, as a brand or publication, you are willing to evolve.
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