Inclusion in Beauty: How Unilever, Revolution Beauty and Sephora used the fundamental laws of human nature to unlock growth

Source: L’Oréal

Earlier this year Brand Genetics collaborated with Business masters students at the University of Bath to explore how FMCG businesses must consider Diversity and Inclusion in innovation.

In this article we are going to explore what these principles mean within the personal care and beauty category;

Few have faced as many challenges in opening the doors as the beauty sector. For a long time, Beauty brands infamously drove exclusivity as an aspiration and only now are we are beginning to witness a stark (but welcome) shift towards inclusivity.

Not only are brands, such as Dove, driving the beauty of individual imperfection, but we’re also seeing brands taking on more of an activist role — for example, LUX’s latest campaign highlighting the impact of casual sexism on women, and inviting men to experience this stigma first-hand.

Source: Campaign Asia

Kudos, Unilever!

But the question remains: is this move towards inclusivity, diversity and a celebration of the individual simply helping brands avoid ‘cancel culture’ or can it drive a positive change for society, shift the way businesses operate internally AND ultimately prompt major growth for their brand?

At Brand Genetics, we spend a lot of time helping our clients tackle the ‘Say-Do’ Gap when it comes to consumer behaviour (see our latest report on Sustainability), yet when it comes to Diversity and Inclusion the shoe is on the other foot!

The ‘Say-Do’ Gap

In general, consumers feel they have been ‘let down’ by beauty brands that have talked but not walked, and their trust has waned as a result. The consumer of today (and tomorrow) doesn’t care about a brand’s intent (SAY) if this is at odds with the reality of their actions (DO).

Source: Shutterstock

According to a Nielsen report, “African American consumers spend more than 9 times more on hair products than any other group”. But despite this commercial opportunity, the wider industry is failing to meet their needs.

Similarly, while younger consumers in the West are demanding more non-binary, inclusive beauty advertising (that goes as far as showcasing stereotypical beauty ‘flaws’ ) and products, more conservative outlooks towards gender outside of the West mean global brands are reluctant to pivot.

Moreover, evidence of this gap is seen in the emergence of new terms to describe brands’ token use of D&I, such as “rainbow washing” which has entered the global lexicon — a way to describe when LGBTQ+ symbols are used by brands with little or no engagement, meaningful support or true affinity with the wider community (Champlin and Li, 2020).

Source: Metro

Not only do consumers expect to see brands showcase a realistic, representative proportion of society in their marketing & comms — but they also want to see products that are intentionally designed to be more inclusive too.

Third Love embody this spirit perfectly. Not only do the lingerie brand show ‘normal’ women of all shapes, ages and ethnic background on their marketing assets — they have the product range to support it. The result? A 347% year-on-year sales growth in 2020.

Closing the gap: leveraging the Laws of Human Nature:

When it comes to D&I, we know there are many perceived organisational barriers that are contributing to the ‘Say-Do’ gap. At Brand Genetics we focus on overcoming these barriers by utilising learnings from ‘The Laws of Human Nature’. When everything is changing, focus on what has remained unchanged for millennia!

Source: Content Catnip

This psychologically validated framework offers routes into D&I that are what your consumers want, what the world needs and what will ultimately drive the growth of your business.

Who is getting it right?

With all that in mind, we’ve picked out 3 past examples of how brands within the Beauty industry have successfully leant on the laws to foster inclusivity on a global scale.

  1. The Law of Gender Rigidity

We all have masculine and feminine qualities: we each possess hormones and genes of the opposite sex and, when young, absorb traits from both parents. However, one of the simplest ways to define our identity is around gender — and as we grow up, we tend to subconsciously over-identify with the role expected of us and adhere to gender stereotypes (which can be positive or harmful).

Axe was able to understand the role it had played in historically reinforcing some of the negative aspects of Gender Rigidity and that times were changing. Research from VICE in 2020 found 41% of Gen Z respondents from western countries identify themselves in the middle of the masculine to feminine scale, while 50% of Generation Z agree that traditional gender roles and binary gender labels are outdated.

Source: Medium

To address a growing shift in gender affiliation norms, the Unilever brand launched a commercial that embraced all men who used its body spray.

Gender-stereotypes have historically led this sort of campaign to present unrealistic-looking athletes and made direct ties between masculinity and physical strength. However, Axe’s ad argued that masculinity is about being confident with your own identity, rather than judging yourself against a perfectionist aesthetic of an elite athlete.

The commercial showcased a dancer wearing high heels and a man dancing with a woman in a wheelchair, aiming to show that masculinity is more about expressing yourself, embracing your passions, and being confident in who you are.

2. The Law of Generational Myopia

We are all defined — more than we imagine — by the generation into which we are born. The fundamental attribution error is the tendency to attribute our behaviour to internal states and volition when a lot of it is defined by our external environment. When we are young, we are more likely to embrace new ideas and it’s natural for each generation to seek to separate itself from what’s gone before.

Revolution Beauty was able to utilise this to have a real impact on diversity and inclusion when they joined forces with TikTok to open the conversation with this younger audience and propelled non-conforming gender stereotypes into the mainstream.

Source: Revolution Beauty

Together they launched a multi-market campaign to find the most inspiring beauty creators disrupting and transforming the industry. The #CreatorRevolution challenge is a ‘modern-day beauty pageant for the digital age, focusing on celebrating on diversity, inclusivity and genderless beauty’. The campaign is aimed at disrupting outdated stereotypes and celebrating all definitions of beauty.

3. The Law of Conformity

We like to think we’re unique and independent, but as social animals we are in fact more predisposed to want to fit in and conform than to stand out. In groups, our behaviours shift as our ‘social personality’ emerges — we unconsciously imitate what others are saying and doing; we think differently and feel different emotions in tune with the group mood.

As such, using the power of brands to build communities and platforms that can have a positive impact on shaping the social norms is a real (and currently underserved) need. Sephora, a global retailer of personal care and beauty products, recognised this and has since run a world-renowned brand community called Beauty Talk, which is a large, well-organised forum where users can ask questions, discuss ideas, and have their beauty queries addressed by other enthusiasts (Koetz, 2019).

Source: Allure

By creating a brand community, Sephora utilises the Law of Conformity to forge a feeling of belonging for consumers, establishing brand loyalty, and targeting the consumer with higher ‘loyal’ moral foundation.

Hopefully these three examples provide tangible inspiration for more brands to close the ‘Say Do’ gap and take an active stance on diversity and inclusion when undertaking innovation.

If your company wants to understand more about how to unlock positive innovation, get in touch with us today!

Oli Kriskinans is a Consultant at Brand Genetics, an agency specialising in human-centred insight and innovation. With experience across strategy & innovation, as well establishing his own youth media start-up, Oli is a proven entrepreneur and problem-solver with a distinct passion for understanding what drives human behaviour.



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