What Inclusion Actually Means: Pleasure Month Version


As creatives and marketers, we spend a lot of time thinking about the relationship between people and brands. Hours of sifting through data to determine if a particular ad, campaign, color, or headline was a huge hit or a massive flop (or worse – completely neutral, revealing very little value).

We can be really obsessed, trying to get into the client’s mind and understand them on a deeper psychological level that they don’t even understand.

I spend a lot of time reading blogs and books or attending webinars to understand why this is and not that.

“Why did this button copy have a better click-through rate than this one?”

“Why did people seem to prefer this background color so much more than the other?”

Authors or webinar hosts often refer to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs when explaining the relationship between psychology and marketing.

If you are not familiar, the hierarchy of needs is a framework from Abraham Maslow who theorizes that people are motivated by five basic categories of needs: physiological needs, safety, love, appreciation, and self-actualization. It is also conveniently depicted in a rainbow.

The framework is simple, but the ideas here are complex. Although a lot of time was spent delving into each of these categories, today I’m going to be spending time on this centerpiece – Love and belonging.

Cultivate a sense of belonging

Ever turned up at a party alone? It’s scary. If you’re like me, your first step is to go straight to the bar. After that, I usually search the room for someone I know or who seems familiar to me. I immediately feel more comfortable in situations where I see representation. It moves me from security needs to belonging needs.

What is this relationship like between brands and their customers?

You have probably noticed the recent trend for brands to change their logos for the month of pride to the various LQBTQIA flags. LinkedIn, Spotify, Airbnb and many others have jumped on this trend.

Pride logos

Other brands have released Rainbow Limited Edition products such as Vans, Apple, Skittles, and Adidas. Some brands even sponsor Pride content on streaming services like Hulu.

Pride products

Don’t get me wrong, the more representation the better. But inclusion is more than hoisting a rainbow flag for a month. Inclusion requires empathy and empathy requires understanding.

I welcome all kinds of inclusion, but if you want to build lasting relationships with particular communities, you need to tap into the psychological need we all as humans have to belong and feel equal. This representation is still very rare for most brands.

Check out these two commercials and tell me what’s different.


Campbells Pride Advertisement

While this ad is cute and representative, it still has the punch line of being gay.

Wells Fargo:

Wells Fargo Pride Advertisement

This ad is not about being gay. It’s about being a family. You can easily swap the pair for either gender or orientation. It was written for a couple, not a gay couple.

Why not just write a great script and cast people of any kind? Why should you limit yourself by saying it has to be a certain way? I’ve always found it interesting that we, as marketers, feel like we need to write certain things for certain people instead of focusing on a great story or punch line. That is hard enough in itself.

They need visibility and representation, but in a way that frames the queer community not as outsiders, but as people. Just like everyone else.

This is person-to-person important – trying to see previous stereotypes and misunderstood ideas about what you think a person is like and actually knowing them for who they are and what is important to them.

Belonging and love needs (from Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) are only met when we as marketers take the extra step to see and understand that all people just want to be seen and shown as the same – not as props or checkboxes.

Small steps towards inclusivity

If you’re a marketer looking for more ways to make sure you’re inclusive, here’s what you can do:

  1. Review your websites and other marketing materials to make sure the photographs or illustrations depict a balance of all the people in authentic situations.
  2. Include pronouns in profiles and signatures (if you aren’t already).
  3. Push customers, managers, and employees back when there is feedback on inclusion and diversity.
    Tip: If you are dealing with people who want to talk about numbers, have them google “pink money” and the increase in LQBTQIA purchasing power.
  4. Share your platform with members of the LQBTQIA community all year round instead of just looking for them in June. Collaborate with them on things other than LGBTQIA content and give them the space to talk about areas of their passion or expertise. There is nothing more inspiring about a young professional who is a badass in his career and happens to be out there.
  5. Most importantly, check your own bias as a leader to make sure you are leading and inspiring the team around you to address these issues.

    Additional credit: Visit your local HRC Branch and spend some time with people who work there. Understand what the LGBTQIA is still fighting for and what they need from local businesses in terms of support.

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