Choosing who will act as your brand ambassadors is a consequential decision. Get it right and massive commercial opportunities can open up: audiences previously disconnected from your brand can suddenly be engaged. If they identify with your chosen ambassadors, they will be a big step closer to connecting with your brand. Get it wrong and not only will you have wasted money, but you might have dented a reputation that took years to build. Original image: Grazia Daily
Clearly, brands must be careful when choosing who will represent them. Who has the reach and influence in target communities and segments? Who has integrity and can be trusted to stay true to the values you want customers to associate with your brand? What do your target consumers actually value, admire and look for in a brand ambassador?
Brand ambassadors must reflect the values that matter to people of colour
Different people look for different attributes in a brand ambassador taking into account deeper cultural values, economic circumstances, lifestyles and aspirations. We’ve come to identify some important nuances in the attributes people from ethnic minority communities in the UK tend to look for in others.
1. Drive, determination and resilience
The most valued personal qualities are drive, determination and resilience. It’s easy to understand why these qualities should be prized: they implicitly acknowledge that, by and large, people from minority groups face greater hardship and encounter more discrimination on their route to success. To make it, they will need to have drive, determination and resilience in spades.
“I don’t want people to be flawless. It’s more the fact that they had obstacles put in their way, but they also had the determination to overcome difficulties. They’ve stayed strong and turned themselves around.”
2. Distance travelled: overcoming adversity on the road to success
What matters more than the objective scale of a person’s achievements is the ‘distance travelled’ between a person’s starting point in life and their current position.
Having overcome adversity is the key ingredient that enables someone to identify with the brand ambassador, to imagine oneself in the situation embodied by the brand ambassador, whether this is driving the same luxury car, wearing the same watch or attending the same university. It is the essential factor to make audiences feel that the product or service is ‘for people like me’.
“Positive role models, like Lewis Hamilton or Stormzy, it’s not just the glitz and glamour of where they are now. There was actually a struggle that they went through. To me, the process is more valuable than who you are right now or what you’ve done. It’s the journey you’ve been through, because at the end of the day, I’m going to go straight through that journey as well and I need to know that, yes, it will be difficult, but you can succeed.”
3. Giving back to society
People of colour generally place much greater emphasis on the importance of giving back to society. They are more likely to admire, and be inspired by, people who help lift others along as they go up the ladder. Promoting social justice and contributing to community development matter more for people from minority groups than for the majority.
“The worst kind for me are the ‘ladder pullers’: people who have enjoyed support but pull the ladder behind themselves once they reach the top. I look up to people who help others and who give back to make the community better.”
Brands need to move away from stereotypes and established narratives
People of colour want and need to see different - more complex, more authentic, more empowering – reflections of their communities and of their lives in advertising, marketing and communications.
There is a tendency to choose brand ambassadors and influencers that fit lazy stereotypes, but not all people of colour are rappers or sports personalities. Where are the designers, charity workers, playwrights, politicians and business people of colour? Where are the successful men and women from the Bangladeshi, Chinese or Traveller communities?
That is not to say that an astronomically inspiring figure like Stormzy should not be valued. Stormzy has used his success as an urban music artist to speak publicly about mental health issues. He has created his own platform to elevate all sorts of talented young people of colour. His advocacy for greater ethnic minority representation at Oxbridge and his sponsorship of two black students a year at Cambridge has succeeded, almost single-handedly, in doubling the intake of people of colour at Cambridge. Suddenly, young talented black students are beginning to imagine that the bastions of academic excellence can be places for them, too.
There is much BAME talent out in the world from a wide range of disciplines. Brands should seek to work with excellent role models from all backgrounds and raise up inspiring individuals who break the mould and shatter stereotypes.
Lessons from the Pepsi fiasco
The infamous Pepsi ad featuring Kendall Jenner illustrates perfectly the opposite of the values highlighted here. This advert attempted to speak to ethnic minority audiences in the aftermath of Black Lives Matter protests and anti-Trump marches, but instead demonstrates a startlingly inept choice of role model, and tone deaf messaging to boot.
Kendall Jenner comes from a legacy of reality TV, the glamorisation of celebrity culture without hard work, and a vast distance from genuine community work - the very opposite of what people of colour told us they value in role models.
This brand ambassador selection did more than fall flat: Pepsi had to withdraw the entire campaign and has endured a long run of reputation damage and internet mockery.
This disaster demonstrates how value-based BAME audiences truly are - and the absolute worst thing you can do is co-opt racial equality themes and get it all. The choice of brand ambassador to address a serious issue like social justice was inauthentic, patronising, offensive.
When considering a brand partnership, contracting ambassadors who demonstrate the right personal qualities, life journeys and social commitments will help your brand resonate more deeply with ethnic minority audiences. Shining a spotlight on black, Asian and ethnic minority people who have these traits will also help inspire the community further.
Getting your brand ambassador partnership right requires deep insights into each community - and the various gender, age, generational and social class differences within each ethnic group. You should research how your target audiences perceive your brand, and where these audiences think brands might have permission to play around and be creative in relation to inclusion.
Versiti has unparalleled expertise and experience to help brands make the delicate and highly consequential choices necessary when working out a brand partnership.
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