Power shift: inclusivity is in

Representation in media and marketing to Gen Z

The first thought that popped into my head when thinking about ‘who cares’, is how important it is for businesses and brands to show they care in the current climate. In 2023 it seems to be a new standard for consumers that brands actively try to platform, be diverse, and comment on societal issues.

An example that made me register a shift in consumer expectations, was seeing the rebrand of Victoria Secret. When asked in 2018 if trans women would be included in the iconic Victoria Secret show, the company’s CMO at the time,  Ed Razek said, ‘I don’t think we should. Well, why not? Because the show is a fantasy.’ Following this comment, Victoria Secret saw a significant decrease in the engagement of their shows, which used to go viral, year after year. 

It’s interesting to compare this to a brand like Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty, which grew massively for many reasons, but distinctively because of a gap in the market. As an underwear brand, they also did a fashion show, but chose an entirely different approach. They showcased the beauty in all types of women including, plus sized, older, trans, POC (people of colour), pregnant, disabled, and women with skin conditions. I know it meant a lot to women in these groups to finally see themselves represented in the forefront, and this is why representation is so important and can steer brand perception. 

A lot of brands have understood this shift and now use representation to respond to these new demands, which is a good thing

However, there is nuance to this. I think what made consumers resonate with Savage x Fenty was more than just the representation in the casting. I think what stood out here was Rihanna herself. Her being the founder and face of this company carried a lot of weight. The representation is also within her, as she understands directly why there is a need for all types of women to be celebrated. Her experience as a woman and as a person of colour means she’s directly felt what it’s like to not have herself represented.

I think a big reason why consumers support her, aside from the amazing products and campaigns, is that they actually can see themselves in her, and want to see her do well.  

Since this, Victoria Secret has decided to adapt and do the same. What is interesting to me, is how the demand has always been there throughout history, but hasn’t been prioritised. I think today’s market can be categorised by a huge shift of power which favours the consumer. A lot of this comes from the power, influence, and newly acquired platforms that under-represented groups have now. Social media is a big factor, as people can now actively have their say and dictate brand perception to the masses. Influencers are also more diverse, and some even have bigger platforms than brands. We have seen apps like TikTok and Instagram build and destroy careers and brands overnight. The shift in power is immense.

Overall, this shift in power is a good thing, and means that we see a lot of representation in the forefront which is amazing and a testament to the changing times. I predict the next trend will be a push to see more representation for roles behind the scenes. The reason I predict this is based on many things, but a most recent example is the response to the new Netflix show Everything Now. As we all may be aware, Gen Z is a group that a lot of brands are currently trying to crack. It appears that there is somewhat of a disconnect. The reason I bring up Everything Now is that Netflix previously has used representation to try and address this disconnect.

The platform features multiple Gen Z characters in key roles, which is technically good representation. However what gives Everything Now an edge is, when you’re Gen Z or belong to a particular group, there are little things that confirm the authenticity of characterisation. Even things that seem minor: like the choices of fashion, the way they speak, and what they speak about can include inside references/ jokes that give it that extra layer. It was no surprise to me that Everything Now had Gen Z writers. The show has shot to number 10 on the platform, after being released just a week ago. It is now currently viral on TikTok, where Gen Z are repurposing moments in the show to make relatable content. The actors have even amassed hundreds of thousands of followers.

I think this is another reason why platforms and brands like Savage x Fenty, GUAP mag, and Pxssy Palace, resonate so strongly. When your team features people who are a part of the communities you are targeting, you can speak to them in a way that is so clearly for them. There is nuance to marketing to different groups of people, and it’s details that really matter.

There is so much power in a representative team because all groups of people have something special to add. Why? Because everyone cares!

Featured image: Polina Tankilevitch / Pexels

Rachel Olagunju, Creative Consultant

Rachel Olagunju is a multi-disciplined creative consultant working in music currently in strategic cultural partnerships. She specialises in conceptualising, strategic thinking and cultural impact. She has worked with brands like Nike, Depop, and Aaiaiai and has 4 years in the industry.

All articles