Editor’s note: Shira Glickman is a research strategist at KNow Research, an insights consultancy based in San Francisco. Katrina Noelle is principal, KNow Research, and co-founder of Scoot Insights. 

Diversity and inclusivity in advertising is a hot topic. Brands are keenly aware of the need to stay relevant and relatable to their target audiences. As insights professionals, we conduct studies to understand target audiences’ reactions to this updated representation of the world. Does the brand sound authentic? Relatable? In-touch? Trying too hard? Missing the mark? 

Our goal is to examine the role brands (and their advertising/messages) play in reflecting and representing society through topics and imagery and how customer insights can help uncover best practices to do so authentically. 

We’ve seen brands lean into diversity and inclusion recently due to a few key factors:

The data supports this and shows that these points are felt more strongly among younger generations. Millennials were initially the most diverse generation to date and Gen Z became the first to have a non-white majority. “These generations are looking for their own diversity to be reflected back to them in marketing, and in entertainment.” YPulse

Thus, nine in 10 of Generation X and Millennial marketers believe they are expected to use more diverse representation in their campaigns, and 88% of Generation X and 90% of Millennials believe that this helps a brand’s reputation. 

Figure 1 shows how marketers across generations have actually been using diverse imagery In the last 12 months. 

Keeping up with changing norms and expectations in the way brands represent people is easier said than done. We’ve seen brands come up against a conflict of proportionality: finding the right balance between the real and the ideal, and in a way that’s authentic and not forced. Brands struggle with whether their role is...