Image by LincolnBlues. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Valeria Piaggio writes: The 2016 edition of the Academy Awards will be remembered as the year that Hollywood finally got on the same page as the nation in recognizing the importance of diversity.

The shouts of #OscarsSoWhite were heard loud and clear, even addressed in comments by President Obama and by the broadcast’s host, Chris Rock. The lack of diversity in Hollywood is finally more important than who was the worst dressed, while 83% of Americans agree that the United States’ cultural diversity is one of our major sources of strength.

Diversity-Global MONITOR-2015-The futures companyHowever, not all social issues are as universally agreed upon. Opinions differ on many fronts, from dealing with social inequalities to balancing security with personal freedom. As the US grows in diversity, its growing pains manifest themselves in the form of polarized views and actual confrontations, made ever so easy by social media sharing. Among non-Hispanic whites, 65% agree that “Americans today are too sensitive to the concerns of racial, ethnic, religious and social minorities.” Among ethnic minorities, 54% agree that “Americans today are not sensitive enough to the concerns of racial, ethnic, religious and social minorities.”

While brands often try to stay out of the fray, they are increasingly brought into the debate by others, their silence or omissions judged as tacit approval. In fact, consumers in general and Millennials in particular do expect brands to take a stand on important social issues: 76% of all Millennials do, including 86% of African-American Millennials and 82% of Hispanic Millennials.

In a divided country, consumers have even bigger expectations: They want brands to act as social glue. Brands can create positive marketing strategies that bring people together through shared consumer values, while also celebrating individuals’ unique cultural heritages. The big question then becomes how to do it right, and we explored this topic in our recent US Yankelovich MONITOR Cultural Intelligence Quarterly.

Even though it is both challenging and difficult, brands have no choice. They have to become a part of the conversation. Because polyculturalism is here to stay, and because most consumers really long for and want unity, the position to take is one of inclusivity, of bringing people together. As discussed in our recent FutureView LIVE about Big Tent Branding, this strategy is also smart business: bringing new customers to a brand is the path to profit in a slow-growth economy

A version of this post was first published at Kantar’s US Insights blogValeria Piaggio is The Futures Company’s Head of Polycultural Insights and Consulting.

The image of Oscar in a Hollywood shop was taken by LincolnBlues, and is published here under a Creative Commons license.

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