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Diversity in Advertising: Expert Tips for Travel Marketers

By Danni Winter

October 20, 2023

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Authentically reaching multicultural groups is overlooked by brands. These coveted markets have huge spending power but get an inadequate slice of diversity in advertising budgets.

We sat with digital advertising leader Kristie MacDonald, CEO of Huddled Masses, a Direct Digital Holdings company, to discuss her agency’s work in inclusive marketing. In the discussion, there are two insights that she revealed that stood out to us:

  • Multicultural audiences represent 40% of the U.S. market with a combined spending power of $3.2 trillion – yet merely 5.3% of ad budgets is directed to these consumers.
  • Diverse and multicultural consumers take note when brands invest in specifically targeting their group, and when they don’t. They are vocal advocates for brands and respond accordingly with their wallets.

Clearly, diversity in advertising and inclusive marketing carries tremendous upside for travel and tourism brands.

But, achieving authentic resonance across cultural perspectives requires moving beyond superficial stereotypes. There just isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” approach. MacDonald outlines that multicultural representation throughout the creative process leads to nuanced and fresh diversity marketing examples.

Additionally, partnerships with multicultural media outlets allow travel brands to reach diverse travelers in trusted environments. But brands must commit budgets fitting the value of this market. Progress awaits travel marketers ready to embrace authentic diversity.

Let’s explore insights from Kristie MacDonald, an advertising leader driving change.

How do you define ‘Diversity’ and ‘Inclusion’ in the context of advertising audiences? 

Diversity is often used to talk about a multicultural audience and/or one that includes other under-represented groups like LGBTQIA+. Inclusion is about an audience that pulls from all groups to be truly representative of the whole.

Why is it crucial for businesses to incorporate diversity and inclusion in their advertising strategies, and how can this lead to more authentic brand representation? 

The rewards are too great to not do so. First of all, let’s understand the real numbers at play — multicultural audiences represent 40% of the U.S. market with a combined spending power of $3.2 trillion — yet merely 5.3% of ad and marketing budgets have been directed to these consumers and their communities. And those numbers don’t include other diverse groups, like LGBTQIA+. So, we’re talking about a huge percentage of the U.S. market.

Second — and quite importantly — recent consumer research commissioned by Direct Digital Holdings, a survey of consumers in the Black, Hispanic/Latinx, AAPI and LGBTQIA+ communities, found that they take note when brands invest and when they don’t. They are vocal advocates for brands — and respond accordingly with their wallets.

Media buying is a critical part of the puzzle. The research shows that nearly 7 out of 10 diverse/multicultural adults believe that purposely investing ad dollars with media that is owned or focused on their respective communities strongly demonstrates support.

The large majority of these diverse consumers, about 8 in 10, feel more positively about brands that advertise in targeted diverse/multicultural media.

Another key benefit — 4 out of 10 respondents said they notice ads more when they appear on targeted diverse/multicultural media channels versus mainstream media.

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Over the past decade, how has the advertising industry’s approach to diversity and inclusion evolved? 

There has been some positive momentum in our industry, as many businesses have fashioned dedicated efforts toward supporting social justice and a more egalitarian approach to marketing spending.

Still, brands have moved slowly in diversifying their media allocations.

To quote Alejandro Clabiorne, EVP, Executive Director, New York, Mediahub Worldwide: “Siloing multicultural and diverse audiences into a separate line item in marketing plans needs to be a thing of the past.”

This is not just about fostering equality but the vital importance of targeting upwards of two-fifths of the US market in a way that demonstrates understanding and support ± ultimately toward winning more customers.

What are common mistakes brands make when incorporating diversity and inclusion in advertising campaigns? 

One major challenge is the multicultural media scale myth. Issues that are keeping this myth alive include: categorization, budget allocation that isn’t aligned with population growth, ad technology “preferred” partners that keep those minority­ owned out of the mix, and buyer misperceptions that minority-owned properties are small.

So-called “niche” communities are rapidly becoming the mainstream. That said, it is vital that we understand their distinct nuances in order to reach them authentically and drive sales, as well as long-term loyalty.

A number of our brand clients are seeing the value of thinking about diversity in their marketing. For example, one of our SMB clients — The Naples Zoo — was able to drive a significant increase in ticket sales by targeting Hispanic families in their marketing mix, reaching them and speaking to them on their own terms.

What ethical concerns exist around targeting ads based on demographics like race, ethnicity and gender identity? 

Targeting different audiences and communities is most effective when you have a diverse team working on the account — reflecting the audience that you are trying to reach. Even if you miss the mark on some of your campaign approaches, they will have been seen through the lens of the consumers you are trying to connect with — which will provide a higher level of authenticity and improve your odds of resonating with your target.

How should businesses measure the success of their diversity-focused campaigns and effectively gather feedback from diverse audience groups to ensure authenticity and effectiveness? 

Businesses should first establish how they measure success for any media or engagement they are running. What is the true goal of how they are trying to engage with an audience? Is it to drive more sales? Is it to change a perception or establish a relationship that didn’t exist previously? Once you outline the goal, you can lay out the best way to measure success.

How can data analytics support an inclusive approach to audience targeting without inadvertently perpetuating stereotypes, biases or exploitation? 

As we look forward to data analytics and Al’s growing impact on the marketing ecosystem, it is important that we invest more in diversifying the data and Al field itself. And that should happen now in Al as we are setting the foundations for this new area of technology. A more diverse data and Al community will be better equipped to anticipate, review, and spot bias and engage communities affected.

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Given the rapid changes in media consumption and audience expectations, how do you foresee the future trajectory of diversity and inclusion in advertising? 

Diversity and inclusion will need to be normalized — if not prioritized in order to reach tomorrow’s audiences. Frankly, it’s already vital today — but it will be even more so in the future.

The Direct Digital Holdings survey found that there are a few key ways that brands can demonstrate strong support through marketing. Investing in advertising on minority-owned or targeted media drew high marks, as did creating ads and content that are inclusive of diverse communities.

Doing that effectively requires being deliberate about diversity — in your own ranks and those you work with across the supply chain.

And, our research found that almost 90% of diverse/multicultural consumers report taking action because of a company investing in their community, including telling others about the brand, sharing their support on social media — or even switching to a brand away from a competitor that does not invest in their community. This makes it even more clear that growth and market share are up for grabs.

How can brands ensure they’re committing adequate resources to these demographics? What makes culturally relevant ads resonate so powerfully with these groups? 

It depends on the product and campaign specifics — but if you are thinking of being “general market” you need to be a reflection of the world as it is. I mentioned earlier about the fact that more than 40% of the U.S. populace consists of multicultural and diverse people. Our audience make-up and industry need to mirror that in order to serve today’s consumers, as well as the brands trying to reach them.

When it comes to understanding diverse and multicultural consumers, the best approach to creative is to have actual members of the community you are trying toreach working on your team. Why? Because you’ll never truly understand how best to engage with them without those sorts of insider perspectives.

You must be diverse — from internal teams to outside vendors up and down the supply chain — and make diversity deliberate if you want to effectively reach diverse audiences authentically and purposefully.

It is also crucial to point out that this isn’t just about being “good for society” — it is also good for business.

What are best practices for deciding how to allocate funds between diverse audiences? Should the spend be relevant to the percentage of the audience?

As mentioned earlier, it depends on the product and campaign specifics. I think it again goes to clearly outlining your brand’s goals and understanding your brand relationship with each community you are engaging with today and where there is opportunity for growth. You may be well established among certain segments and need to invest more to open a line of communication with others.

What barriers exist that hamper the alignment of ad spending with population diversit? 

Education is critical, as is meaningful diversity across internal teams and outside vendors and resources. Both are necessary in order to understand and align with today’s — and tomorrow’s — diverse reality.

About Kristie MacDonald

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Kristie brings more than 15 years of entertainment marketing and research experience to her leadership role at Huddled Masses. As a key member of Huddled Masses team, Kristie has helped implement operations and analytical processes that ensure the company and client media run more efficiently. She enjoys solving the unique strategic puzzles presented by each client business challenge.

Before joining the company in 2015, she served as Managing Partner and Director of Digital Distribution for the Modi Media division of GroupM. In that position, she was integral to the development of the media investment group’s addressable television business. Previously, Kristie was the Vice President of Analytical Solutions for Rentrak Corporation, which was acquired by ComScore. While at the global measurement and research company, she was named one of Multichannel News’ “40 under 40.” Earlier in her career she held key marketing posts at Ripe Digital Entertainment and Paramount Pictures.

She is based in Los Angeles, California and when not working on improving client digital performance is out hiking in the Eastern Sierras or doing acroyoga.

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