Brands must be braver about social issues that minorities care about

Valeria Piaggio writes: Diversity has reached a tipping point that is leading to the emergence of a new paradigm—polyculturalism. Diverse cultures are now an intrinsic part of the mainstream. It’s a dynamic environment: polycultures coexist, interact, blend and, in the case of the presidential election, collide. Polycultural America is no polytopia: the rise in diversity exacerbates social tensions and race issues. Color matters, but fragmentation is the current state of the nation.

Marketers have traditionally preferred to position their brands as “color blind.” By keeping diversity issues at arms’ length, brands felt reasonably shielded from potential fallout. In today’s polycultural society, however, it’s becoming much harder to defend a neutral stance. Kantar Futures research shows consumers want to know what brands stand for. Moreover, they expect more companies to take a stand on social issues.

colorbravetakestand_494x185Brands face a challenge and an opportunity by turning from color blindness to color bravery. Acknowledge race and diversity issues and be an active participant in social change.

The path towards color bravery is not an easy one, and it’s certainly not based solely on advertising. To be credible in this space, brands need to raise their game and demonstrate commitment towards diversity. There are pitfalls, as Starbucks discovered with its short-lived “Race Together” initiative. The path begins with acquiring the right amount of Cultural Intelligence. In order to do so, marketers must be willing to get uncomfortable by digging deep, challenging the norm, and re-analyzing what they think they know about the issues affecting minorities.

Our sister company Kantar Added Value believes that navigating the path toward color bravery successfully can only be accomplished after brands take the necessary steps to equip themselves with the proper tools, knowledge and resources to do so.

Color bravery

Once Cultural Intelligence is acquired brands can determine the amount of permission they have to engage in color brave activities — a common concern among clients to our calls for color bravery. Often, they want to know if they have the credibility and standing to engage in diversity and race-oriented conversations and initiatives. Brands need to be color brave savvy, which is a combination of understanding the cultural context and knowing their own brand color and what that means in terms of roles and responsibilities.

Most brands start the journey toward color bravery by superficially trying to appear more diverse. More proactive brands go deeper, actively challenging themselves to become more diverse in terms of human talent. This transformation gives brands a key competitive advantage. A diversity of human assets can bring a different, more holistic perspective of the marketplace.

At Kantar Futures, we have identified eight levels of color bravery. Brands that understand this will look to move up the levels towards levels seven and eight.

Color Bravery Steps

Examples of brands who’re operating at the higher levels of the scale are Verizon, with its “Potential of Us” program, part of an overall leadership commitment to ensure that the business reflects the customers and communities it serves, and MTV’s “The Talk”, which directly engages its viewers and users.

Color bravery isn’t about mimicking a multicultural America. It’s about leading with ethnic insights and innovating for a polycultural future. It’s about using that insight to lead on public conversations about diversity. Perhaps uncomfortably for some brands, it’s also about taking a stand when the irresistible force of diversity meets the immoveable object of prejudice.

Our advice is clear on this issue: For brands that want to stay relevant, being color brave is not a choice, it’s a mandate.


Valeria Piaggio is Head of Polycultural Insights and Consulting at Kantar Futures.  This post is based on her talk withWhitney Dunlap-Fowler of Kantar Added Value at Kantar’s FragmentNation event in New York, and a version of it  was first published at Kantar US Insights. The image at the top of the post is of Valeria (left) and Whitney during their presentation.

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