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DEI Workshop with Dean Mullins

This week, AMA was joined by adjunct professor Dr. Jeanette Snider and Dean Mullins, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies and the Diversity Officer for the Robert H. Smith School of Business, to explore what diversity, equity, and inclusion mean in the world of marketing.

Dean Mullins started the dialogue by highlighting that as the consumer population diversifies, it is imperative for brands to authentically reflect a range of backgrounds in their marketing messaging. He continued, intending to mitigate the harm on a global scale, forming a connection with the consumer.

With this overarching goal in mind, Dr. Snider enlightened us with crucial data points that reveal the increasing importance of DEI in marketing. The most current census reported that the white population in the United States has declined for the first time, while multiracial, Hispanic, and Asian populations are all on the rise. Not only that, but a 2021 Gallup poll revealed that the LGBTQ+ population jumped from 3.5% in 2012 to 5.6% in 2022, and about 15% of the American population identifies as having a disability. Based on these figures, it is easy to see that DEI in all aspects of business is as important as ever. There is a strong moral argument for DEI, but a financial one as well. Dr. Snider pointed out that companies with robust DEI efforts see a higher bottom line than those who ignore or reject it. So if DEI is the morally and financially correct thing to do, why have so many companies had marketing blunders in this area?

To break down this challenging question, our AMA members broke into groups of three to explore one marketing mini-case that was either a hit or a miss. Chase, Savana, and I did a deep dive into the Pepsi BLM commercial that enraged the internet back in 2017. To sum it up, the commercial featured Kendall Jenner attending a BLM protest, but once she offers a police officer a Pepsi, everyone cheers and is no longer upset. While the intent behind this commercial was to show that Pepsi can bring communities together and promote peace, the impact it had was quite negative. The campaign trivialized the BLM movement and gave the impression that such a significant, systemic issue could be solved with a simple can of Pepsi. Seeing everyone happy and cheering after Pepsi was brought out portrayed a different image than the reality of people getting tear-gassed and even killed at these protests. Pepsi’s response was to pull the ad and issue an apology after seeing the influx of negative feedback. Unfortunately, the damage had already been done. Perhaps donating the campaign budget to the BLM movement would have sent a better message regarding Pepsi’s values and morals.

After discussing several such marketing mishaps, we turned to the main takeaway from all of these examples. Dr. Snider's closing remarks echoed what all C-suite executives need to hear: “Have people in the room. If everyone in the room looks the same, you have a huge problem.” Companies, both small and large, local or global, public or private, need to invite a diverse group of people into the room and give them a voice. If they don’t, they could lose their customer support and see red on their income statements in the near future.

- Rumi Petrova


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