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Dare to be diverse or risk losing trust

Hi there, my name is Oluwatobiloba Kolawole-Olutade. It's a long and beautiful name meaning God is a big God. But you can call me Tobi.

When I was invited to talk about trust in communications my first thought was how can I, an intern, a newbie to the communications world, expect an audience of comms pros to trust me?

I figured the best way to earn your trust was to share my own experience of losing trust in a brand because of the way they communicated with me, and what internal communicators can learn from this.

You may remember the notorious Pepsi advert last year, which featured Kendall Jenner seemingly solving the history of racial inequality and police violence with a can of Pepsi.

At the time, police brutality in America was quite a hot topic and a lot of equality protests were active within the American black community. Some of these protests involved heightened violence between locals and the police.

Audience insight would have shown that this was a trending topic. I assume Pepsi thought latching onto the topic of police violence might create a connection with their audience and drive up sales.

In reality, their advert had the totally opposite effect.

It felt like Pepsi put selling a few products at the expense of the feelings of a whole race. It seemed like they were exploiting the history of black protest movements for profit, simply because they noticed it was trending on Twitter. The black community has been fighting for equality and better opportunities for more than a decade.

This topic might have been newly hot to Pepsi but for us it is something we live daily no matter where we are based in the world. Which is why there was global backlash from people of colour worldwide. In America, the black community is fighting for justice weekly, sometimes daily.

This is a very sensitive subject, which you can only truly understand if you have been through it. Those that haven't experienced it will never fully understand what years of inequality and systematic oppression feels like.

It made me feel like the Pepsi advertising team did not truly understand us or go the extra mile to understand how to relate with people within this community. It also made me question the diversity or their marketing and communications team.

This is why as much as audience insight is important in communication, it is no longer enough. Companies need to get better at really understanding their audience and communities. The only way they can really do this is by building diverse teams and giving people of colour equal career opportunities in advertising and communications. This is something that we really need to change.

I want to leave you all with some food for thought. Next time you are developing an internal comms campaign, ask yourselves: Do you genuinely understand the target audience or community?

If you want to engage employees, your comms team needs to truly represent them in all their diversity. Not just in terms of gender, race and sexuality, but social background and personality too.

So, my challenge to you is dare to reflect the diversity of your audience if you truly want them to trust you.


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Tuesday, 07 December 2021
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