9 stirring brand stories that broke diversity and inclusion barriers

In 2017, the world was taken by storm when Levi’s launched their ‘Circles’ campaign on television with the slogan ‘Let’s live how we dance.’ Between the pulsing soundtrack of “Makeba” by Jain and real people of different cultures and backgrounds, they get their groove on in their jeans in real locations worldwide. Levi’s “Circles” ad had struck a real chord with viewers. So in June 2020, when the world was waking up to empathy marketing, diversity and inclusion, Levi’s revisited the ‘Circles’ campaign with ‘Makeba’ once again playing in the background. In addition, the campaign showed people of different ages, races, colors and nationalities, with the slogan, ‘One Day Soon, We Will Dance Together Again’.

When an idea is generated for the masses, brands are often only as creative as the diversity of ideas that are available to them. In our previous blog on sustainable human-centered design, we did a mock use case study about a probiotic beverage named ‘Drink Fit’. Initially, this product was only targeting health-conscious adults that frequent gyms. As the brand evolved, the design and marketing team modified their strategy to include a more diverse, yet targeted audience via social media. Inclusion is the magic wand that lets marketers tap into new audiences – often with minimal changes to the original product or service.

When we talk about inclusion, we have to talk about allyship. In fact, according to Forbes, even privileged people can be allies and champion the cause of a minority. To understand why this is important in marketing, here is what Sheree Atcheson, the author of the Forbes article had to say about allies. “An ally is any person that actively promotes and aspires to advance the culture of inclusion through intentional, positive and conscious efforts that benefit people as a whole.”

Mindful diversity and allyship in your marketing help increase your target audience appeal. In fact, inclusive practices help all users feel welcome. The burning question is – are diversity and inclusion considerations a necessity today? Are these practices just another passing trend? Defined by ADP’s chief diversity and social responsibility officer Rita Mitjans, “Diversity is the ‘what’; inclusion is the ‘how’.” We believe that ‘what’ and ‘how’ are fundamental questions for brand identity – so diversity and inclusion are not just passing trends – but a new path forward for brand management.

Diversity & Inclusion quote

Before we take a deep dive into the importance of diversity & inclusion in marketing with real-life examples from successful brands, let us talk about the long-term employer benefits that come from paying attention to a diverse demographic. You see, outside the cabins of the top-level management, the impression of the company among potential candidates, competitors and even clients is largely driven by how they are perceived across different media platforms. This means that in 2021, social proof is the biggest driver of employer branding in a world where brands compete to be the most extraordinary on a global scale.

bugs bunny meme

So, the perception of your company from the eyes of your employees, clients and stakeholders is largely known as employer branding. In fact, many people equate employer branding with recruiting, but these two concepts are not the same. Employer branding goes beyond recruitment to maintain the company’s image even when there is no active recruitment happening. Employer branding is also about how we keep our staff engaged and proud of their association with the company. Employer branding is about building a loyal group of advocates within the organization to represent our organizational culture and value.

Remember, consistency is crucial here. The brand’s internal and external image are both important – and should reflect the same values both within the organization and what is projected on outside platforms. If you fail to stay consistent, you risk losing your reputation, or worse, losing valuable people.

Businesses have been adapting to the changes in the remote workforce terrain – and working on diversifying and incorporating marketing. All of this is driven by changes in customer behavior. Today, marketers continue to experiment with new marketing techniques, which means that consumer behavior will constantly evolve in reaction to these developments. Our goal when writing this blog is to explore the need for diversity in marketing, the key values emerging in this area as well as practical ways in which we can practice diversity and inclusion to improve employer branding and key consumer relationships.

Diversity as a necessity

Look at this quote by Mary Spio, Founder of CEEK VR “Diversity isn’t a nicety, it’s a necessity. Inclusion is an inescapable and necessary consequence of a global economy; it’s becoming impossible for companies to flourish without diverse organizations that reflect their consumer base.”

 Why Diversity is Important

Diverse and inclusive marketing pushes you to abandon any preconceived assumptions about your target audience and delve deeper into why and how your product might be used. This entails adopting more diverse images, messaging and even methods – but diversity can take many forms beyond just superficial words and visuals. What does the future of diversity and inclusion look like? Do we really need these concepts? The following Forbes trends forecasts will help you decide for yourself!.

Where’s the proof?

As we move into a new era of inclusion, consumers will not be taking your word at face value but will also be demanding proof of your actions. During the height of the racial reckoning in 2020 that followed the murder of George Floyd, several businesses spoke out about their support for the Black community and their organization’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.

While brands were busy jumping on the black lives matter bandwagon, customers were quick to check the top-level representation of these brands. One look at the board of directors, senior leaders and top management made it very clear which brands were actually putting their money where their mouth was! Brands could no longer not get away with a blackout social media post tagging #BlackLivesMatter. Consumers today want to see proof that you are actively working to be an inclusive company they can trust – not just a business that hops on to the latest trend to get their attention and money.

These sentiments apply across the board too. Market Watch published an article featuring Natasha Lamb, the managing director of Massachusetts-based shareholder advocacy group Arjuna Capital. In the article, Natasha recalled that “Amazon.com Inc. suggested shareholders reject proposals last spring seeking greater disclosure of racial and gender pay gaps. But after Floyd’s death and the police killing of Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, Amazon splashed “Black Lives Matter” on its home page and donated $10 million to the NAACP and other groups.”

Image from CNET

Today, we live in a ‘woke’ world where everyone needs social proof. Just saying we are inclusive is no longer enough. Your actions need to match your loud words!

Saying NO to superficiality

I’m going to say something that might sound counterintuitive

Belonging is important in business.

Customers who feel like they ‘belong’ with your tribe or community will repay you with their loyalty. Inversely, when people don’t feel like they belong, look for another brand that makes them feel welcome. Your efforts towards championing diversity cannot be superficial.

Merely changing your photos to include token-colored people or using more varied voices in your marketing will not suffice. Brands will have to cultivate an inclusive culture, assemble diverse teams, cultivate deep customer intimacy and cultivate quality relationships within their communities. This involves deep work and internal transformation.

Let’s take a look at what happens when brands fail to undertake this deep cultural shift and opt for band-aid solutions.

Fans of Victoria’s Secret have been demanding more inclusive representation for years. Earlier, senior management, including Ed Razek, the now ex-chief marketing officer, typically dismissed the demands as being inconsistent with the brand’s “fantasy.”


The brand finally hired its first transgender model, Valentina Sampaio in 2020. In fact they also included more plus-size models in their campaigns over the past year. What changed?

After these remarks from Razek in 2018, Victoria’s Secret market share, as well as sales, plummeted due to public outrage. In the aftermath of the incident, the audience leaned over to more inclusive lingerie brands like Savage Fenty X. While Victoria’s Secret joined the diversity party in 2020, many were suspicious that the brand was just pretending to be inclusive.

In 2021, Victoria’s Secret Angels got rebranded and those avatars of Barbie bodies and playboy reverie are gone in favor of

Today, Victoria’s Secret is turning its ship around to meet its savvy customers in the middle. This story of brand transformation is a testament to the fact that regardless of what happened in the past, authentic storytelling can help you connect actively with your audience.

Focusing on deeper values


Brands are run by people. People make mistakes. The larger the brand, the greater gravity of the situation when things go awry. However, when you begin to engage with communities and show up in an authentic manner, people sit up and take notice. Look, we understand that there is a fine line between cultural appreciation and appropriation.

Here are things that people don’t want to see anymore:

  1. Representing groups you are not part of without doing your research
  2. Token inclusion without systemic changes just for customer brownie points
  3. Academic and theoretical diversity that is hardly accessible to general users

All in all, brands need to do their homework. Instead of artificial content, you might want to reach out to real users from that target group and get some real-life storytelling. How’s that for real-world accountability?

I will leave this accountability discussion with one final example. One of my favorite cases of a brand turning a potential PR disaster into a social media win was in 2010 with the O.B. tampons. Due to problems in distribution channels, O.B. tampons were taken off the shelves abruptly, their parent company Johnson & Johnson, sent “personalized” apology video songs to all 65,010 customers! With the help of the company database, O.B. made videos for 10,000 different names and distributed free coupons. Who can stay mad when they get a heartfelt apology?

Even Penny couldn’t resist a good apology.

leonard musical apology


Consumers choose brands that align with their values and ideas. Empathy marketing has been a hot topic of conversation at the Vantage watercooler for a few months now – and we still can’t put enough limelight on it! Companies that empathize with their target audience are more likely to acquire loyal customers and maybe even increase conversions. C’est Vrai.

In 2017, hundreds of passengers boarding Delta Airlines were stranded at the runways in Georgia, Tennessee, Louisiana, Ohio and Kentucky due to extreme weather in Atlanta. So what can an airline do?

With a quick-thinking on its feet, Delta Airlines turned the storm in its favor. To everyone’s amazement, they ordered hundreds of pizzas to be distributed to the passengers, who were delighted to nibble on the cheesy dough while waiting for the storm to pass. Of course, controlling the weather was out of their hands, but empathizing with their passengers was possible. The airline understood the hardship of the stranded passengers and showed its empathic side by genuinely caring for its customers!

Offering Value

Consumer habits have changed since the pandemic resulting in marketing practice transformations to help brands bring their products and services to customers where they hang out – online! However, with online transformations, brands come across the challenge of building trust and demonstrating the value of their offering virtually!

During the Coronavirus Pandemic, Burberry’s premium apparel brand issued a statement stating that they were distributing masks and gowns to healthcare personnel. Burberry reached out to their customers and demonstrated how they assisted people during the pandemic and how the customers can lend a hand. This simple gesture demonstrated that brands can add value in many ways – through useful products, fostering dialogue and nurturing community. Contributing to a good cause inspires people in the right direction. Such an act of respect and sensitivity to the problem at hand breeds loyal customers.

Burberry contributes to fight against COVID-19
Image From Burberry

There are many ways to add value for consumers as a brand – and one of these ways is to reflect on company culture as a key factor in your diversity strategy. According to a 2019 consumer survey by Google and The Female Quotient, 64% of all respondents took some action after seeing an online ad they considered to have a diverse and inclusive culture.

Ironically, while purchasing online, more people are seeking a “human” touch. Companies that build a voice for their diverse clientele will be the ones to drive inclusion policies in the coming years – and benefit from the positive branding that comes along with this practice!

Aligning to the feelings of inclusion

Emotions are increasingly being linked to brand outcomes.

If a person feels that this brand is “for me” – it fosters brand trust, affection and loyalty.. Inclusive advertising can extract two key emotions: joy and trust. As a marketer, you must look for brand connection points in products or characteristics that can elicit these two fundamental emotions. If you can find a trustworthy and honest storytelling approach to help your product evoke any of these emotions, this approach can facilitate connections with people, making them feel like part of a community.

As Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Marketers today need less analytics or technical gimmicks and more relationship management skills! What are the people you are talking to really feeling about your brand?

ProWellTech has some great tips on brand-building activities that can foster inclusion and trust. We have added a few of our own ideas to their list.

Brand Development Strategy

Metaphors of Inclusion

In marketing, as in real life, it is not just about what you say, but also how you say it. Language cues and context – which elicit good sensations – make up a powerful concoction that can help you emotionally connect with your audience. The way in which you convey your brand message can mean the difference between adoption and rejection. In the research article “The Psychology of Inclusion and the Effects in Advertising” at Microsoft Advertising, ProWellTech came across fifty language-based indicators that express inclusion. This included three inclusion metaphors that are intrinsically linked to emotions. These metaphors can help convey inclusivity and drive brand performance when utilized in the context of your ad copy, website or digital content marketing.

Three main metaphors for inclusion and 50 words to signal inclusion:

A Powerful Metaphor for Inclusion

Identify and select inclusive imagery

Once trust has been established as the foundation, a brand can begin to cultivate trust and loyalty. To do this, brands must go above and beyond their competitors to make someone feel understood through inclusiveness, including authentic media channels. Choosing powerful visual images is a critical step in creating a meaningful and inclusive customer experience. Inclusive advertising is more than just representing everyone – it is about starting conversations within a respectful, welcoming, mutually beneficial context. The three inclusion metaphors below can help you create powerful visual storytelling to act as a vehicle for your brand message


  • Have more than one person in the image
  • Include realistic diversity in the media
  • Use real people being themselves
  • Create a visible positive relationship

Do you remember the famous jingle of Coca-ColaI’d Like to Buy the World a Coke”? This brand has been famous for making consumers feel included for decades. In 2013, Coca-Cola launched the “Share a Coke” campaign where labels on plastic bottles would say “Share a Coke with …” and include names from around the world, making the customers feel the brand is “For Them.”

Later in 2014, Coca-Cola launched an ad, titled “Together It’s Beautiful,” which gave the viewers a small peek into the lives of U.S. residents who share a similar sense of pride despite the different ethnicity or geographical backgrounds. From the cowboy on a horse to kids in a garden, different locations, different people, different languages, they all sang “America, The Beautiful” together. Look, I’m not about to tell you in today’s context whether or not artificially flavored sugar water is good for you or not. BUT! As far as brands go, coca-cola has always been at the forefront of customer engagement and storytelling.


  • Include people with disabilities
  • Feature non-traditional dimensions
  • Include unique subsets of diverse populations
  • Include multiple people of color

“To celebrate the diversity and inclusivity of sport, space will not just celebrate local elite and grassroots athletes through visual content, but also show Nike plus size and para-sport mannequins for the first time on a retail space,” Nike said in a press release, 2019. Nike is another brand that has come up with some extraordinary storytelling campaigns to overcome negative brand perception over the years.

Image from Insider

A shocking fact about how little brands include openness in their marketing was captured in Impact Plus, showing that while one out of four people lives with a disability, only 1% of ads represent them. Something to think about.


  • Feature everyone with the same prominence
  • Convey equity, diversion and inclusion
  • Ensure multiple dimensions of diversity
  • Have the creative represent the spectrum of people

As we discussed earlier in the blog, the sales and shares of Victoria’s Secret were losing to the more inclusive Savage x Fenty brand. Victoria’s Secret bid farewell to its annual fashion show in 2019 and out of its ashes rose Rihanna’s body-inclusive Savage x Fenty fashion show on Amazon Prime. Unlike its predecessor, Savage showcased models of different body types, genders and racial backgrounds. This strategic move continued from the brand’s use of curvy in-store mannequins that consumers have highly praised. Showing every type of body with the same prominence raised loyal advocates within the customer community like never before in the beauty industry!

Savage x Fenty mannequines
Image from harpers bazaar

Ethically, diversity and inclusion is touted as a ‘duty’ for those that want to overturn the vestiges of corporate and colonial damage. But also consider this. Today, like never before, it just makes financial sense to include a diverse representation of people in your creative review to uncover blind spots. Blind spots such as non-obvious negative connotations, stereotypes, cultural inaccuracies, or negative associations.

Another interesting observation. Often, people confuse diversity and inclusion (D&I) and inclusive marketing with being the same – which they aren’t. While D&I refers to developing an inclusive culture within your workspace, inclusive marketing refers to what you do to remove exclusion through marketing efforts.

You need both – and that is why brands showing representation and inclusion shouldn’t be considered path breaking. On the contrary, both D&I, as well as inclusive marketing, should be the norm in 2021 and beyond!

Diversity and Inclusion is not a trend

At the beginning of this article, we set out to determine if diversity and inclusion are necessary marketing strategies for brand growth in the post-pandemic world. After the detailed research we showcased above, our team concluded that diversity and inclusion are not mere trends. As styles of marketing come, inclusive marketing practices are some of the strongest vehicles for ‘buying’ customer loyalty with strong storytelling. Whether your brand is a billion-dollar company like HuffPost or a start-up, simple acts of empathy go a long way.

What we have learnt is that privilege is inter-sectional and by being an allied brand, individuals and organizations have the ability to support

  • people of color regardless of their race
  • differently-abled people even if they are able-bodied
  • women even if they are men
  • LGBTQAI + even if they are cis-gender

Privilege is a resource that can be used for the common good if we can step out of our worldview and acknowledge the experiences of others. So do you think diversity and inclusion are a necessity for brands?

That’s all folks!

If you are interested in striking up a conversation about inclusive marketing, empathy marketing, content writing or effective design critique, hit us up @VantageITeS on Instagram, LinkedIn and Facebook.

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