Looking back at 2016, anti-Muslim sentiments and racial tensions polarized society. Though that might give cause to some serious pessimism about our future as a society and the inclusion of marginalized groups, there are some major encouraging developments in the marketing field. It seems that for some big companies, 2016 was the year in which they made bold moves and decided to prominently feature everyday Muslims.
Amazon, FBTO and OMNIA
In this article Moxi.Biz will share examples of international and national ads that prove that brands, contrary to political statements have indeed embraced diversity. The ad that became an internet sensation on the web is the Amazon showcasing a Muslim imam and a white Christian pastor having tea together and laughing about their bad knees, The two are friends and shown to send each other a package (kneepads), which they then are shown to be using when they kneel down to pray. One in church, the other in the mosque: different, yet alike. Amazon casted a real life practising vicar and the imam as a Muslim community leader.
Though risky, Amazon was very motivated to deliver their message of inclusion while advertising their products. “This type of a project is definitely a first for us,” said Rameez Abid, communications director for the social justice branch of the Islamic Circle of North America, one group Amazon worked with. “They were very aware that this was going to cause controversy and might get hate mail and things like that, but they said it’s something that they wanted to do because the message is important.”
In 2016 other US other major brands like Microsoft, Chevrolet and CoverGirl picked up on speaking to the Muslim customer. The latest inclusion of a hajib wearing beauty blogger as the face of the popular cosmetics brand in 2016 was a groundbreaking moment in Moxi.Biz’ opinion. While such ads were apolitical in nature and focused on themes of community and acceptance, they were viewed as bold, even risky, in a year when there were campaign statements by Donald J. Trump about a Muslim registry and a ban on Muslim immigrants.’
There are also some examples closer to home, such as the latest FBTO (Dutch insurance company) ad campaign: no one knows you better than yourself” (Niemand kent je beter dan jezelf). This ad highlights the fact that one never knows someone when only looking at the exterior; everyone is unique in their own way. The ad features people of all colours, generations and walks of life.
FBTO worked with advertising agency Indie Amsterdam and director Madja Amin for their commercial. ‘A lot of so called knowledge of the customer is based on derivative information and assumptions, without having had any personal contact.’ says Emilio de Haan, creative director of Indie Amsterdam. Customers are pigeonholed based on assumptions, but in the end, no one knows you better than you yourself. We all think this way, but more often than not, these assumptions are wrong. We wanted to prove that with this ad.’
That diversity marketing is more than just ad campagn as Zilveren Kruis has proven this year. As we discussed in an earlier Moxi.Biz news item, Zilveren Kruis put started partnering with a new collective called OMNIA, which specializes in catering to the cultural and religious healthcare needs of citizens with a migrant / Muslim background. In 2016 Zilveren Kruis proved the benefits of diversity marketing through their partnership with Omnia specializing in catering to the cultural and religious healthcare needs of citizens with a migrant background.
Internet backlash and controversy
Moxi.Biz’ aim is to create awareness of the benefits of diversity marketing, but is also aware that acceptance of this marketing form requires one to set aside (unconscious) biases of agencies and brands. Social media reactions of the public a shown in the following segment show the hidden sentiments that in our opinion make it difficult for companies to embrace the decision of going for a more inclusive images in advertising. Ads showing any kind of racial diversity can now attract heaping amounts of hatred online — most of it delivered anonymously — as State Farm discovered last month when it posted an ad of a black man proposing to a white woman on Twitter. Remarks, like “they don’t belong here,” peppered the comments under Chevrolet’s video in June of two twins from Los Angeles, named Ruqaya and Qassim, who were accepted into a soccer program the company sponsors. They were 8 years old when the video, which did not mention religion, was made.
The 2016 movement
However, chief marketing officer at YouTube Danielle Tiedt, states that highlighting diversity is “more important than ever. I don’t think diversity is a political statement, this is an issue of universal humanity.” A campaign for YouTube Music in the middle of last year highlighted five individuals, including a young woman in a hijab, rapping to a song by Blackalicious while walking through a school corridor. The inclusion of the ad, “Afsa’s Theme,” was purposeful for YouTube.
New York Times reporter Maheswari compares these campaigns featuring Muslims and people of other religions to the movement in 2013-2014, when large companies launched campaigns featuring same sex couples and their families making inclusion and acceptance a priority over potential criticism from some customers. “With the kind of gay parent issue, we’ve gotten a little closer to acceptance, but the Muslim issue in America is still pretty raw for a lot of people,” said Kevin Brady, an executive creative director at the ad agency Droga5, which worked last year with Honey Maid on a commercial about white and Muslim-American neighbours. “I don’t think it should be, but it’s one that I think brands took an extra step of courage to really go out there with it in 2016.”
Glimmer of hope
Commercials have the potential to reach audiences with diverse viewpoints. Amazon said its ad had aired during programs including the “Today” show, “Empire” and “Blue Bloods,” while Microsoft said its placements had included “The Voice,” “Pitch” and “This Is Us.”
Moxi.Biz is hopeful about the potential. In a year filled with negative imaging and harsh political statements towards Muslims, companies have dared to take a different edge as they embraced diversity and inclusion in marketing.
Managing director of Moxi.Biz
Moxi.Biz believes that integrating diversity in doing business is a ‘must have’ rather than a ‘nice to have’. Our mission is to raise awareness of the benefits of diversity marketing and help companies reach a more diverse clientele successfully. We do this by sharing relevant news, best practices and organizing inspirational business events.