Inclusive ads are affecting consumer behavior, according to new research

Shelley Zalis, CEO of the Female Quotient, a women-owned business committed to advancing equality, shares the results of a new study, which seeks to better understand the influence inclusive marketing has on consumer behavior.

The Female Quotient partnered with Google and Ipsos this past summer to survey nearly 3,000 U.S. consumers of various backgrounds to understand perceptions surrounding diversity and inclusion in advertising. My team and I asked people about the factors they think are important for a brand’s ad campaign to be considered diverse or inclusive. Specifically, we surveyed respondents about 12 categories: gender identity, age, body type, race/ethnicity, culture, sexual orientation, skin tone, language, religious/spiritual affiliation, physical ability, socio-economic status, and overall appearance.

We learned that people are more likely to consider, or even purchase, a product after seeing an ad they think is diverse or inclusive (in reference to the 12 categories discussed in this study). In fact, 64% of those surveyed said they took some sort of action after seeing an ad that they considered to be diverse or inclusive.1 This percentage is higher among specific consumer groups including Latinx+ (85%), Black (79%), Asian/Pacific Islander (79%), LGBTQ (85%), millennial (77%), and teen (76%) consumers.

Image reads: People are more likely (64%) to consider, or even purchase, a product, after seeing an ad they considered to be diverse or inclusive.

The eight product-related actions people could select were: bought or planned to buy the product or service; considered the product or service; looked for more information about the product or service; compared pricing for the product or service; asked friends or family about the product or service; looked for ratings and reviews of the product or service; visited the brands’ site or social media page; and visited a site/app or store to check out the product.

Consumers expect brands to be inclusive and reflect the reality of their lives in advertising.

Of the various groups surveyed, LGBTQ and Black respondents expressed the strongest preference for diverse and inclusive ads. For example, 69% of Black consumers say they are more likely to purchase from a brand whose advertising positively reflects their race/ethnicity.2

“We now have generations of consumers who are increasingly multicultural through the intersectionality of race, gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. This study clearly told us that these consumers expect brands to be inclusive and reflect the reality of their lives in advertising,” said Virginia Lennon, Ipsos senior VP of the Multicultural Center for Excellence and one of the lead researchers on the study.

How authenticity plays a part in perceptions

Throughout the study, we also asked people about their perceptions of authenticity in marketing. We found, for instance, that 71% of LGBTQ consumers said they are more likely to interact with an online ad that authentically represents their sexual orientation.3

“It is not enough to put a rainbow on a product and call it a marketing strategy,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, a nonprofit and leading media organization that advocates for the LGBTQ community. “Brands need to take the initiative to reflect the world we live in by showcasing the wide range of diverse identities within the LGBTQ community. This includes transgender and non-binary people, as well as gay and lesbian parents with children. When a trans woman of color is represented in a commercial or ad, it builds understanding and sends a validating message to trans people everywhere.”

Consistently, the most effective and impactful ads mirror consumers genuinely with positive reflections.

New research across the industry points to similar findings. Recently, the Alliance for Inclusive and Multicultural Marketing (AIMM) released its Cultural Insights Impact Measure (CIIM) in partnership with NBCUniversal.

“We found that highly relevant ads go beyond winking and recognizing diversity and inclusion. Consistently, the most effective and impactful ads mirror consumers genuinely with positive reflections. These ads enhance brand perception, increase brand effectiveness, and significantly lift purchase intent and loyalty,” said Carlos Santiago, co-founder of AIMM.

‘Become the market you seek’

To learn more about how brands can apply the insights from this study, I caught up with Del Johnson, a principal at Backstage Capital, a venture capital firm that has invested over $5 million in companies founded by women, people of color, and LGBTQ entrepreneurs.

If you seek to enter diverse markets, your organization must become the market you seek.

“If you seek to enter diverse markets, your organization must become the market you seek,” said Johnson. “The more distance there is culturally between your team and the market, the less ability you will have to execute. We all fall into particular biases. That’s why you need to have culturally competent people in the room who have the power to affect decisions. By bringing in the talents of those who have traditionally been overlooked, you unlock true creative expression — and build an organization able to check its biases.”

At the Female Quotient, we’ve seen that brands can “do good” and do well at the same time if they practice what they preach with an authentic voice and consistency. A brand’s promise should be aligned with the brand’s culture. People can sense when a brand is merely saying what it needs to say versus truly walking the walk. Ultimately, brands must reinforce their value proposition from the inside out if they truly want to drive change.

Diversity & Inclusivity Report: Gender in advertising