Black Panther, led by award-winning director Ryan Coogler, broke numerous records on the way to its over US$1 billion earnings. To date, it is the highest-grossing solo superhero film ever released worldwide, the highest-grossing film with a black director, and the biggest pre-summer opening weekend earner, to name just a few of its achievements. Even before it set any records at the box office, the film took on a life of its own. Social media was inundated with references to the movie and celebrations of its almost all-black cast. It was evident that the film was a hit long before its official release.
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The launch of Rihanna’s makeup line, Fenty Beauty, elicited a similar reaction in the beauty sector. The line debuted with forty foundation shades, a quarter of which fell into the “deep” shade category. The launch was unprecedented, not only due to the overall amount of shades, but also because of the number of dark shades that were included. In an industry where mainstream makeup companies sometimes offer no more than two or three foundations for darker skin tones, if any are available at all, Fenty Beauty’s inclusive shade range stood out.
Rihanna’s decision to ensure that women of a wide range of shades felt represented – especially those on the darker end of the spectrum – paid off. Fenty Beauty has won numerous beauty awards since its launch, including being named one of Time Magazine’s Best Inventions of 2017, and the company gained a whopping US$72 million in Earned Media Value within a few months of its release.
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The excitement surrounding Black Panther and Fenty Beauty should not be overlooked or taken lightly. Individuals who felt ignored for years were the driving force behind the record-breaking sales of both entities. Of their own volition, members of these marginalized and often overlooked communities have become unofficial brand ambassadors. Their response is a perfect illustration of the fact that ‘Representation Matters’ is not just a millennial buzz phrase, but a necessary aspect of inclusion that allows underrepresented people to feel seen and catered to.
Other companies would do well to learn from Marvel’s and Fenty Beauty’s examples by understanding that customers want to see themselves in what they purchase and consume. When someone sees a representation of who they are in a product, it makes it that much easier for them to identify with and become an unofficial spokesperson for the item or organisation. Word-of-mouth is the most effective and widely-trusted marketing technique at an organisation’s disposal and this type of grassroots momentum helps to increase brand awareness and profit margins.
The suggestion that companies pay attention to diversity and adequate representation is not, of course, all about profits. Representation should be a part of an organisation’s brand strategy because the world is a diverse place. Using narrow standards of representation is out of touch and dismisses the existence – and buying power – of entire groups of people. Research has shown that representation is an effective marketing tool and it would be naïve to assert otherwise.
As organisations continue to seek ways to increase brand awareness, being more cognizant of the needs and wants of customers on whom their attention has been focused and potential clientele whom they may be overlooking could be an integral part of a more effective brand strategy. Black Panther and Fenty Beauty have proven that representation matters to consumers – it should matter to brands, too.