Rahul Sachitanand
Jun 11, 2021

Devise more relevant, targeted creatives within APAC to elevate inclusive marketing, say leaders

CAMPAIGN LEADING CHANGE: While movements such as Black Lives Matter may have resonated worldwide, ad dollars may be better spent on issues with stronger local context, say brand and media leads.

Unilever's Wheel detergent brand campaign targeting rural women in India is a strong example of APAC-based inclusive marketing.
Unilever's Wheel detergent brand campaign targeting rural women in India is a strong example of APAC-based inclusive marketing.

As companies focus their efforts on lifting their DEI scores, APAC industry leaders want brands and agencies to relook at the way they devise creatives, build a media strategy and allocate budgets to more APAC-specific topics and causes.

That's according to speakers at a session on inclusive marketing, responsible advertising and representation, held as part of Campaign Leading Change this week. Companies need to localise their strategy, make more targeted investments and veer away from some bad practices for this to succeed, they added.

The first step to being more inclusive marketers, especially in APAC, may come from looking for more local examples, case studies and data points, Arvinder Gujral, managing director, SEA, Twitter said. “We have to get away from the copy-paste syndrome that we derive from the west,” he stressed. “Yes, it is great to copy-paste marketing best practices if that is happening there ... we need to elevate the conversation, because if we don't we have nothing else to refer but Black Lives Matter." 

While the BLM issue was a prickly topic that helped ignite conversations about race and privilege, it should also serve as a sound stepping stone for companies to up their DEI game, Anita Munro, chief investment officer for Mindshare argued. For example, in the case of her agency, this movement has helped create a Black PMP, a brand safe environment, to help identify and work with black publishers that could be backed with investments in a meaningful way. Mindshare has followed this up by building a brand safe environment for the LGBTIQA+ community too.

As she sees it the lens of the conversation around DEI has traditionally focused on creative, but this debate may need to go in a different direction. “This topic has become more important, but traditionally this discussion has focused on the creative aspects--what is your brand purpose and how is it reflected in the creatives you make,” she explained. “Increasingly, we are putting a lens onto the conversation is this idea of intentional investment. It's about the investment decisions a marketer or brand can take on their media plans to really support building a more diverse ecosystem that gives voice to under-represented groups." 

For brands, the challenge is steering clear of hackneyed award bait creatives and making work that is more relatable to the brand, says Rupen Desai, global CMO of Dole. “The worst thing we could do about this amazing thing called purposeful marketing is thinking about the two- or three-minute ad for some award show that my peer group will measure and make me feel good, but really won't matter to consumers or as a marketers,” he said. “Unless purpose is part of the business model...its that little tab that lives quarter-to-quarter and becomes a nice-to-do thing or ends up as a three-minute woke-washing item." 

The challenge for marketers is to train their inclusive marketing efforts on issues that are more relevant to their issues in a very heterogeneous APAC market. According to Twitter’s Gujral, while North American marketers could lean on civic movements such as BLM easily, their APAC counterparts need to explore local nuances to build viable and inclusive strategies. “Asia is not one market, as we all know, every country every 1000 kilometres is a different issue that you have with different country, different culture, different language, different contexts, and a completely different set of issues that you will deal with,” he said. Dole’s Desai contends that companies and CMOs have struggled to deal with a top-down approach to this issue because “is because a lot of companies are still headquartered run through those CMOs, through those CEOs, through those boards, which aren't diverse.”

Instead, he argued, a region as diverse as APAC can define its own diversity and inclusivity agenda, rather than lift-and-shift existing ones from other markets. “Of course, it (BLM) is an important subject for a particular context,” he added. “But putting our efforts and money and investment in Asia, that might be the wrong answer to the right question.

Despite marketers having the best intentions, biases can creep into their apparently inclusive work. Mindshare’s Munro recalls a consumer goods brand being censured for an ad showing a same sex couple (two men), struggling to take care of their child. While the motive to use this same sex couple was noteworthy, the campaign stumbled because it reinforced harmful stereotypes of men struggling to be good parents.

Despite such setbacks, she believes brands should persist with plans to expand their investment in inclusive marketing. “There's a role that brands and agencies and platforms can play to address some of those existing gender stereotype issues that we have in Asia,” she said. Munro points to a campaign from Unilever’s Wheel detergent brand in India that targeted women in rural India who did not have access to education. What Wheel did was to create a learning platform, with free data handed out to these women that impacted over a million women in India.

While marketers may be tempted to invest in feel-good inclusive marketing campaigns, it is essential for them to measure their success. “It's a very simple metric,” said Twitter’s Gujral. “(It is) when your organic media impressions are far greater than your paid media impressions.”

Consider Nike supporting US athelete Colin Kaepernick taking the knee to protest police brutality. The brand put out a campaign (with a $5 million budget) , that saw a full range of emotions from people buying Nike gear in support to others shredding their merchandise in disgust. Several such waves later, the tide turned in favour of Kaepernick—and Nike—and the brand had a 36% increase in revenue on same day sales in The US year and market cap went up by $3.6 billion. “How many campaigns have you done in our lifetime, all of us who can which can speak that kind of claim?”

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