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Trend Report: No normal: Post-diversity marketing

Gen Z and millennial consumers feel it unnecessary to downplay their differences in order to get ahead, synthesising influences from all age groups, genders and cultures. We look at how brands can redefine their storytelling to embrace the new normal of ‘no normal’.

Millennials & the post-diversity mindset

Millennials are driving a shift in thinking about diversity. As the most diverse generation in history – only 59% are Caucasian and 27% have an immigrant background (Deloitte, 2015) – it’s no surprise that this is a demographic for whom inclusivity is a natural goal. But more than that, millennials are creating a post-diversity culture that celebrates difference and embraces the full spectrum of experience.

Diversity will become less of a challenge and more of an opportunity. With more data that proves the success of diverse teams, more brands will begin to search for marketing solutions from diverse origins. LEWIE ALLEN, MANAGING DIRECTOR, FORTYSIX

Unique perspectives: Millennials are moving the conversation on from the approach of their Gen X and boomer forebears. They saw diversity and inclusivity in more moral terms – acceptance and tolerance, while millennials see it, according to Deloitte, in terms of “the blending of unique perspectives.” They are much more likely to celebrate difference, draw influence from a range of cultural touchpoints, and take a fluid approach to traditional identifiers such as gender and ethnicity.

Inclusivity in the workplace: This has a particular impact on how millennials view the workplace. Their brand of inclusivity is about empowerment: 76% are empowered when they believe the organisation they work for fosters an inclusive culture, and 74% believe their organisation fosters innovation when an inclusive culture exists (Deloitte, 2015). This data backs up the opinion of Lewie Allen, managing director of ad agency Fortysix– a new millennial-focused division of global ad firm Dentsu Aegis. Launched in April 2016, the agency was created to serve the needs of brands trying to engage younger audiences, and is staffed by millennials from multicultural backgrounds.


While millennials are looking for a new approach to diversity and inclusion in the workplace, it’s even more of a priority when it comes to how brands market to them.

Cross-cultural curators: Millennials – and we see this even more with Gen Z – are curators. They strive to create a compelling and expressive persona online, and are actively seeking diversity of thought and perspectives to fuel this act of digital self-definition. As a result, they don’t think of themselves in demographic terms. They curate themselves using influences from all cultures, age groups, eras and genders, revealing an ‘omnicultural’ mindset – a term coined by Ravi Menon, cultural analyst at US branding agency TruthCo.

Omnicultural branding: As such, they respond to brands with a similar approach to media and marketing. If you’re not projecting an image of inclusivity, diversity and transparency, your business won’t resonate with this age group. For example, 80% of parents say they like seeing diverse families in marketing, and 41% of millennial parents agree that they are more likely to purchase products from brands that use more diverse family types in their advertising (YouGov BrandIndex, 2016).

Dutch electronics firm Philips tapped into this attitude with its recent Breathless Choir campaign – the centrepiece of which was a short film in which 18 people overcome respiratory problems to perform a song live in front of an audience. The campaign won the Grand Prix at this year’s Cannes Lions festival, and the film has attracted more than eight million views on YouTube since it was posted in November 2015.

‘No normal’ mindsets


We live in an age where customers want brands who don't bat an eyelid at any aspect of themselves. JAN GOODING, GROUP BRAND DIRECTOR, AVIVA 

Brands can go much further in embracing omniculturalism than just reflecting a broad range of identities in their advertising. There’s huge consumer wins to be had by constructing your brand narrative around a ‘no normal’ mindset in which, as Menon puts it, “difference is not viewed as a departure from a universal norm, [but] as a universal norm”.

Avoiding tokenism: Swedish vodka brand Absolut attempted something along these lines in its May 2016 Absolut Nights campaign. It focuses on non-traditional protagonists including a widow, an interracial lesbian relationship and a transgender person.

The execution is a little clunky – for example, the focus of the transgender ad is not the transgender character, played by trans actress Carol Marra, but the reaction of the character’s cisgender friend, which caused some annoyance in the trans community. Nonetheless, it doesn’t feel like a tokenistic campaign: the brand messaging of “be true to yourself” supports the decision to be more inclusive in its casting and storytelling.

Normalising disability: Axe’s campaign was also particularly notable for including a disabled character without it feeling tokenistic. Increasing numbers of brands are acknowledging the need for more representation of disabled people in advertising – US retail giant Target ran an ad featuring a girl on crutches for its Halloween 2015 campaign – but few have succeeded in being as effortless and inclusive as Axe.

Non-binary attitudes


Gender has traditionally been very prescriptive and binary… People have begun to protest against convention in favour of more tolerance, diversity and acceptance. NELSON FREITAS, CHIEF STRATEGY OFFICER, WUNDERMAN

Millennial and Gen Z attitudes to gender and sexuality in particular have made the ‘no normal’ mindset a priority for brands across industries. In the past 12 months, we’ve seen a number of youth influencers rejecting binary gender labels, including US pop star Miley Cyrus, British model Cara Delevingne, and 17-year-old Jaden Smith, who featured as a model for Louis Vuitton’s Spring 2016 womenswear collection.

Fluid sexuality: We’re in the midst of what UK lifestyle magazine Dazed recently dubbed a “sexually fluid revolution”. According to Shepherd Laughlin, director of trend forecasting at US research firm JWT Intelligence, only 48% of Gen Z identify as exclusively heterosexual, and only 44% say they always buy clothes designed for their own gender.

Fashion and retail brands are increasingly embracing a non-binary approach to product and marketing – see the Stylus blogpost on Mother’s recent gender neutral denim range for a recent example.

New gender norms: The Anxiety and Depression Association of America tapped into this trend with a campaign highlighting the dangers of overemphasising traditional gender roles to children. It created a series of aggressively gendered parody baby foods – with flavours including Anti-Gay Grape, Submissive Spinach and Rough and Tough Rhubarb – complete with fake reviews emphasising the harmful effects of overt gendering in branding.

Future insights

MOVE BEYOND TOKENISM The new normal is ‘no normal’ – and brands need to go further than just reflecting a broad range of identities. Avoid tokenism by matching an inclusive approach to storytelling that’s true to core brand identity.

PROVIDE PLATFORMS FOR MARGINALISED VOICES Georgina Harvey of Channel 4 commented that “brands that champion marginals will be welcomed”. One of the most effective ways to enable new consumer voices to be heard is to provide them a platform: see Unilever’s partnership with Vice on the female-focused site Broadly, for example.

This is an excerpt from an article originally published on Stylus.com