Multi-racial beauty marketing: Why your brand may be falling short on diversity

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Are brands truly creating diverse experiences that reflect their customer base and target market? Recent stories in the media would suggest that many people don't think so.

(Image: ranplett via iStock)


We need only look to the celeb world to see examples of beauty brands being called out for their lack of inclusion when it comes to certain skin tones and cultures. Celebrity endorsements - or lack thereof - serve to highlight the differences between inclusive brands and those that are not diverse with their offering and marketing.

Beauty brands need to better represent their diverse customer base but avoid falling into the trap of cultural appropriation - the adoption of use of elements by one culture by members of a different culture - and stereotyping.

The line is often a fine one and brands that have attempted to include aspects of different cultures have been criticised, especially when they have failed to include anyone from that culture in marketing. An example of this is Benefit's campaign for 'They're Real Push-Up Liner', which featured comedian Anjelah Johnson's "ghetto" alter ego and was accused of racism.

Appropriation is also evident in the fashion world, with a recent example being Valentino's SS16 collection, which was inspired by 'Wild Africa' but only featured white models.

Not only is appropriation ethically wrong, but being accused of it can cause reputational damage to a brand, result in a loss of  customers and lead to huge financial repercussions; especially if the brand is forced to remove items from sale like H&M rightly had to do with its Native American-style headdresses in 2013.  

How far has the beauty world come in terms of representing diversity?

Beauty brands have become increasingly diverse with their product offerings, especially in recent years. Products that are designed for different skin tones and hair types - such as afro hair - are more regularly available.

In terms of marketing, brands are opting for more multi-racial endorsements, with celebrities such as Rihanna and Lupita Nyong'o both becoming the face of beauty and fashion brands alongside the likes of Jennifer Lawrence and Emma Stone.


(Image: Rihanna's Secret Garden IV campaign for Dior)


Rihanna's Secret Garden IV campaign for Dior was particularly strong, as the singer was the only focus throughout its images and videos. It also incorporated her own personal style, rather than trying to make her fit the brand by changing her image completely, which resulted in a campaign that stands out among others created for designer.

These are all steps in the right direction and yet it is not a sign of complete diversity within the industry as all cultures are not seeing an increase in representation. While celebrity endorsements are more varied, the models used to represent brands across social media, marketing and on the catwalk do not fully represent the available customer base, with a continued lack of Asian and Latino models being used, among others.

This is also the case with the products on offer: typically only high-end brands offer diversity in colours and formulations suitable for anything other than porcelain complexions. Consequently, men and women who do not fit within the standard used by the beauty industry for so long are forced to spend more for suitable products.

It's not just products: Marketing diversity falls short

Beauty brands can and do fail to show diversity in a number of ways when it comes to marketing, which can alienate a huge segment of their potential customer base.


One of the biggest ways brands can fail is through the imagery they use. A lack of diversity of the models used throughout images on websites, across social media and in print campaigns can mean that many potential customers are unable to identify with the brand and view themselves using the products.

Even if a brand offers a full range of products aimed at different skin and hair types, customers will be unable to see this if their marketing images do not put this across. By using images of primarily white women, brands can fail to reach their full potential audience and could lose any customer diversity they already had.


Similarly, content that is provided online can also fail to be written for a diverse audience. Content that generalises advice or topics - such as hair care tips that offer nothing for those with afro hair - can be hugely exclusionary and can result in customers not identifying with the brand or not seeing a product on offer that is suitable for them.

Brands should aim to provide content for a full range of customers without falling into the trap of appropriation. Not only will this showcase a broader product offering, it will also ensure that the brand is viewed with positive sentiment.


Inclusive images and content can be created through accurate and diverse personas, which many brands fail to create. The lack of diverse personas will affect full marketing strategies, as well as brand perception, as they initially discount the importance of diversity in beauty marketing.

Personas should also avoid stereotypes associated with different cultures, as this can have more of a negative impact than not displaying any form of diversity. Perpetuating stereotypes can result in online backlash and damage the reputation of your brand. This was experienced by MAC as a result of it's Juarez collection created by Rodarte, which many saw as making light of drug wars in Mexico.

Not only can this mean that you fail to gain new customers, you can lose those you already have, even if they have been loyal to your brand for years.

User-generated content

Brands also fail to make the most of user-generated content, such as Instagram posts that feature customers wearing their products. Not only are these images great for showcasing the popularity of your brand, they also help to tell multi-racial and multicultural beauty stories.

Regularly re-posting positive images that are shared with you via social media and that feature a range of looks, styles and cultures can help to diversify your brand further and keep it relevant. It also ensures that customers can see people like them using your products, which can increase conversion and promote loyalty.


Jeffree star cosmetics
(Image: Jeffreestarcosmetics via Instagram)

One brand that does this well is Jeffree Star Cosmetics, which regularly re-posts images of men and women with different skin tones, looks and cultures wearing their products. This shows a great level of diversity while also putting across the high quality of the products on offer.

This diversity is also mirrored in marketing images and content on the brand's website, ensuring a cohesive strategy that is incredibly effective.

Why is diversity in marketing important?

The main reason that diversity is important for beauty brands is customer experience. If a customer can identify with a brand through their marketing and online content, it is more likely to result in conversion, which is the aim at the end of the day.

However, it can also result in referrals, positive sentiment via social media - especially as people will become advocates for your products - and brand loyalty, especially if other beauty brands are falling short when it comes to being inclusive.

Brands that showcase diversity through products and effective marketing can reach out to a wider customer base, which creates a more inclusive community that people will be drawn to. Fully reflecting your existing and target customers will ensure that a more diverse range of people are able to identify with you.




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