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Inclusive marketing: how to tell new stories?

Tribune by Sébastien Brocandel, Creative Director of Dékuple Ingénierie Marketing.

Walking in the street, the advertiser that I am comes face to face with an obese woman performing an impressive split! 100 meters further on, it’s the turn of an athlete with Down syndrome to proudly proclaim “I’mPossible”, which I understand as “I make the impossible possible”.

These women, defying their limits and those of our social representations, are the ambassadors of the latest adidas campaign, a brand committed to women’s causes and inclusion. It is part of the “Impossible is nothing” communication platform, created in 2004 by the TBWA and 180 Amsterdam agencies and relaunched in 2021 by the brand.

If like 71% of consumers, I expect brands to promote diversity and inclusion in their online advertising (1), I was nevertheless disturbed by the “very strong” intentions of this inclusive marketing. Admittedly, I count 17.7M #bodypositive hashtags on Instagram, but aren’t the counter-stereotypes exaggerated?

The unease continues with the emotional outbidding of the web page dedicated to the campaign: the portrait of a Down’s syndrome follows that of a transgender volleyball player then an author proudly displaying her obesity. Suffice to say that the Japanese skateboarder presented next suddenly appears very banal.

Adidas_impossible_is_nothing (1)


If inclusive marketing aims to convey an authentic reflection of society, how to avoid the amalgamation of stereotypes, their pseudo equivalence and the use of tokenism that the editor Camille Gantzer (2) defines as “the phenomenon (…) which is a practice often used by advertisers or in the audio-visual world to aim for symbolic inclusion, to escape accusations of discrimination against minority groups. This amounts to positive discrimination. People from minority groups then become sorts of “tokens”, a pseudo-immunity used by brands so as not to be accused of racism, homophobia or transphobia, for example. »?

Where to place the cursor between virtuous intentions, clumsiness and provocative opportunism?

I am torn and the subject is twisted: like adidas in its campaign or that of Darjeeling lingerie with a senior model celebrating an aged body breaking with the codes of the sector, where to place the cursor between virtuous intentions, clumsiness and provocative opportunism?

In any case, the issue of the gaze worn and conveyed in advertising is significant when more than 75% of Gen Z consumers declare that they will end a relationship with a brand whose advertising campaigns are perceived as macho, racist or homophobic.

A subject taken up by the AACC’s CSR commission to support the change towards a more responsible, more resilient and more inclusive world. The AACC therefore recommends that agencies, and by extension the brands they advise, take part in writing new stories and promoting new heroes and positive role models of a world in transition. This writing is not a straight line, far from it.

In terms of flip-flopping and brand storytelling, let’s dwell on 2 emblematic cases: Victoria’s Secret and Abercrombie & Fitch.

The first, which has just hired its first model with Down’s syndrome, has given up exploiting the seam that made its planetary success: muscular and slender models adorned with angel wings to amplify their unreal and phantasmagorical dimension… The imaginary as magical as kitsch now leaves room for a very terrestrial diversity.



If advertising follows and influences society’s values, brands have no choice but to follow societal movements.

For Abercrombie & Fitch, with its iconic models and salespeople recruited for their abs, the change in policy matches the times as much as a change in business strategy imposed by a series of scandals. In 2006, CEO Mike Jeffries divided: “In every school, there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. In all honesty, we cater to the cool kids” and put it all together: “A lot of people don’t match our clothes, and can’t. Are we excluding? Absoutely “.

Another controversy over its hypersexualized marketing again caused the brand’s sales to plummet in 2013, when its boss congratulated himself on no longer offering XL or XXL sizes in the women’s department: “he doesn’t want wholesale in his stores, he wants handsome, slender people.

Sign of the times, today “Abercrombie Today” broadcasts on social networks a campaign celebrating diversity. And the discourse has radically changed: “Abercrombie is not a brand where you have to fit in – it’s a brand where everyone has their place. We lead with purpose, and that spirit of inclusion and equity runs through everything we do,” says Fran Horowitz, the current CEO.

Or how to move from the praise of bodybuilder bodies to the inclusion of all bodies in a short decade.

If advertising follows the values of society and influences them, brands have no choice but to follow societal movements, as confirmed by the firm Nielsen, reporting that “with 43% of the 75 million Millennials in the United States United identifying as African American, Hispanic or Asian, if a brand does not have a multicultural strategy, it does not have a growth strategy”.

And consumer expectations do not stop at the sphere of the brand: 90% of consumers believe that companies have a responsibility to look beyond profit and improve the state of the world! Just that…

Multicultural strategy, body-positivity, fairness… the notions intertwine and it is better to be well advised to avoid missteps and crisis communication.

Influential marketing partner, the software publisher Salesforce defined 6 principles of inclusive marketing last year including “avoiding appropriation” and “promoting counter-stereotypes” within an online self-learning program, “Equality Trailhead, Inclusive Marketing Principles”, to promote inclusive practices. One approach among many others that enjoins us to train ourselves to best support brands in their repositioning, their CSR strategies in particular and in all forms of brand content and content marketing.

Within the agencies, because our creativity and our advice reflect and are inspired by society, we contribute to maintaining or reducing stereotypes. Our vision of the people who make up society mirrors those of consumers.

“Faced with 10,000 brands daily, even if they don’t look at them carefully, scientific studies have proven that an effective advertising strategy has an impact on the psychology of prospects. explains Didier Courbet University Professor and Researcher at the University of Aix-Marseille.

Because one in four people has a disability, but only 1% of advertisements depict them, adidas’ “I’mPossible” campaign takes on its full meaning despite its caricatural propensity.

Writing new advertising stories that touch the heart, promoting counter-stereotypes, it’s possible.

It is even essential.


1 Facebook and Geena Davis Institute study – March 2021

2 Camille Gantzer, editor-in-chief at Décryptage Citoyen International.


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