5 Lessons Brands Can Learn From Ukonwa Ojo and The Cover Girl Creative Team on Diversity and Evolution.
If you haven’t seen the latest CoverGirl commercial featuring Issa Rae and three of her best friends, where have you been? I’ve watched it four times, uhhh maybe five times, and I find myself grinning from ear to ear every time the two-minute clip cuts off. Four black women, riding in a car, talking about lipstick, throwing shade, and selling one of the biggest cosmetic brands in history. Take a moment to watch the video before you read further.
So how does a brand achieve something like this? Some brands have claimed that they just can’t crack the code on diversity, that they don’t know how to reach black women, and some even say they don’t understand the culture. I call BS. Ukonwa Ojo, former Senior Vice President of CoverGirl and now Chief Marketing Officer of Consumer Beauty at Coty, and the CoverGirl team, have delivered yet another brilliant commercial. The Shade for Shade commercial feels authentic because it is. And If you didn’t know, business is booming for CoverGirl.
In order for a brand to create lasting change and to reach a place where diversity is not a surface level marketing strategy, we have to have real and honest conversations about the impact of discrimination and the innate biases brands hold throughout their staff and ethos. Once we reach that place, we can begin implementing.
Here are 5 lessons you can learn from CoverGirl:
1. Practice What You Preach
When diversity is simply a marketing ploy for your brand, it shows. In order to implement authentic diversity in your content, the ethos and culture of your brand have to reflect that. The work starts from within to ensure that diversity is not only a part of your external-facing campaigns, but your true practice. In an interview with Business Insider, Ukonwa says “I'm very passionate about making sure that we not only have diversity in front of the camera...And the reason why that's important is because we're able to tell stories that are really authentic to the people we are trying to relate to...we want to make sure that the people that are telling their stories on the brand, the people who are developing the products, are actually from the communities that we are trying to serve...And so diversity for us is extremely important not just in the way that we communicate, but in the people behind it from an agency standpoint, having a really diverse team.”
Ukonwa Ojo - CMO Consumer Beauty, Coty Inc.
I’m dreaming of a world where femininity is of equal value to masculinity. Huge thank you to @heymichellelee of @allure Magazine @plingyplang of @droga5 and COVERGIRL @issarae for joining forces to push the conversation forward at #canneslions (link to talk is in my bio) . . #covergirlmade by @joannasimkin Hair by @lovingyourhair Styled by @juliaperryh 👗 @tomford 👠 @manoloblahnikhq
Shannon Washington - Former Creative Director and Droga5 and Director and Founder of @parlourmagazine
2. Reflect The Real
People want to see themselves in the product or service you are offering. It makes them feel connected to your brand, and furthermore, you have an obligation to reflect the truth. Three things stood out to me from the CoverGirl commercial, the energy, the women, and their voices. The commercial features Issa’s real-life best friends Megan Lawson, Abenet McMullen and Devin Walker, and watching their connection and different personalities reminded me of my girlfriends. I also noticed that while all four women are sitting, you can see they have different body types. Their perspectives and voices were kept alive throughout the making of this commercial. According to Ad Age, apart from the product guideline script, “the spot was almost entirely improvised.” Issa Rae also told Buzzfeed that when CoverGirl asked if she wanted to use her real friends, “she appropriately responded, ‘What the fuck?! Yes, of course I do...I just don't know any other brands that would do that and would accept me and my cursing-ass, black-ass friends and display us like that to be able to promote lipstick."
3. Do Appreciate Don’t Appropriate
Too often, we see brands using and capitalizing off different cultures, while blatantly refusing to include people who represent that culture. Black culture has been preyed upon by the creative industry for years. We are never celebrated for it, in fact most times we are looked down upon for the very things brands often steal. One of the most widespread examples of this is the use of rap lyrics to caption social media posts featuring only white women - this happens far too often with many brands. This CoverGirl commercial is the perfect example of how to appreciate culture without appropriating. From the title of the commercial (Shade for Shade), to the witty banter, this commercial makes sense for the cast.
4. Use Your Influence For Good
Regardless of the size of your audience or customer base, every brand has a voice, and you should be using that voice to advocate for a better society. Selling your product will only get you so far. You need to ask, how are you connecting with people, where do you stand on the issues that affect them? Are you changing the status quo? It is important to break real barriers instead of just talking about them. The Shade for Shade commercial dealt with the subtle but powerful stigma of colorism. Issa told Buzzfeed that “she's most excited about all the "non-traditional" Exhibitionist Shade options. ‘As a dark-skinned black woman, I've heard my whole life, 'You can't wear certain colors,' and with this it's just like, Fuck that; yes, I can.’"
Keita Moore - Makeup Artist
5. Stop Revolving Start Evolving
It is never too late listen, grow, and implement change. If you don’t try to make a change in your brand, then you never will. Are you listening to some of your customer’s feedback or are you only catering to customers who fit into your limited ideals of what is beautiful or fashionable or relevant? Ukonwa says it best in her BI interview, “I think one of the things that we're really proud of is we've done so many studies...we have to be obsessed with listening, absolutely obsessed with listening. And when we listen, be very, very agile to respond to that. If they're telling us, ‘You know it's really hard for me to find the shade that matches me, the color that's me, and that's a struggle...it's really about listening and then being very agile to respond in real-time to make sure that we're delivering everything that they are asking of us.”
Side note: This commercial reminds me of Issa’s snapchat with her friends, recounting their experience with Beyonce as they drove home. I’m so 100% living for Issa right now! So proud of her, I’ve been riding since the Awkward Black Girl Episodes on Youtube. Go ahead sis!