Editor’s Note: Article from DEI in Communications class at the University of TN / Chattanooga where I spoke on religious diversity.
Many aspects of communication have changed over the years to become for the most part more inclusive. However, one part that seems to be falling a bit behind all the others is the inclusion of religious diversity. This topic is not one that is discussed a great deal when thinking about advertising, branding, or marketing. There is a lot of discussion about racial inclusion as well as gender inclusion, but the religious aspect does not get as much attention. This idea seems to be changing a bit at a time, especially with companies such as Apple, Facebook, and Google.
Advertising is a big part of media and communications, however there is not a lot of religious talk in regard to what is included in advertisements. It is not one of their main focuses within many companies when researching and determining what will generate the most success for their advertisements. When dealing with religious holidays it is taken into consideration that some things should be included, such as when dealing with Easter and Christmas, however there is rarely any research done into how best to reach those religious minorities. It is considered a general rule in advertising to not use generic religious symbols that could somehow offend a person of that religious affiliation. And while this is a good step there is work to be done in regards to making advertising a religiously inclusive part of marketing and communications. There are some companies who are making good progress in the right direction, such as Facebook.
NPR reported that the parent company of Facebook, Meta, has plans to end advertising targeting based on sensitive topics such as race, sexual orientation and religion. The change takes place January 10th of 2022 and will happen on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and more. This change was a major decision for Meta who makes most of its $86 billion in annual sales from advertising; their decision is an effort to stop advertisers from using ad targeting to discriminate. Meta official Graham Mudd posted on a Blog stating, “we’ve heard concerns from experts that targeting options like these could be used in ways that lead to negative experiences for people in underrepresented groups.
Large companies such as Meta, have such a huge impact on society through social media. They have the capability to make these important changes to help lead our society to be less discriminative and to allow a space for inclusive diversity. Ad targeting allows ads to be shown specifically to people based on their race or religion but does religion belong in marketing?
Some people feel that large companies have a certain amount of responsibility and should adhere to a specific ideology. It’s not just about making money, but also about making the planet a better place for future generations. Consumer perceptions of contentious product promotion are heavily influenced by religion. Religiosity, or a person’s commitment to and devotion to religious ideals and beliefs, has a significant role in how consumers evaluate commercial marketing (Farah & El Samad, 2014).
And when it comes to the holidays, how can brands show more inclusivity during the biggest shopping season of the year? Some companies chose to stay natural with “Happy Holidays” and images of winter scenery and snowmen over “Merry Christmas” and Santa on his sleigh. You can’t avoid the holiday shopping season, so what should you do if your product or service doesn’t have a defined target market? One option is to remain neutral, although this appears to be a bit monotonous. Another is to be welcoming to someone celebrating a special occasion or in need of a purchase (Stropkovics, 2018).
Others chose to use their voice for inclusivity. Studies have shown that one in four Americans no longer see Christmas as a religious holiday and more of a cultural celebration (Grossman, n.d.). Marketing has a significant presence globally, and it’s in charge of several things, including attracting customers to your company and reflecting and shaping modern society while staying away from stereotyping appropriation and tokenization. This becomes simpler to accomplish with a diversified team and more profound knowledge of different beliefs (Stropkovics, 2018).
When it comes to religion, the next chapter of marketing and advertising is in diversity and inclusivity. It takes leaders like Meta standing up to say discrimination in ad targeting is wrong. It needs to end to help shape our society to be inclusive and non-discriminatory. With advertising and marketing’s extensive role in society, there is an opportunity for more awareness of religious inclusiveness. One person, one conversation, one ad can help lead our society to demonstrate its true diversity.
Bond, Shannon. “Facebook Scraps Ad Targeting Based on Politics, Race and Other ‘Sensitive’ Topics.” NPR, NPR, 9 Nov. 2021, https://www.npr.org/2021/11/09/1054021911/facebook-scraps-ad-targeting-politics-race-sensitive-topics.
Farah, M. F., & El Samad, L. (2014). The Effects of Religion and Religiosity on Advertisement Assessment among Lebanese Consumers. Journal of International Consumer Marketing, 26(4), 344–369. https://doi.org/10.1080/08961530.2014.919126
Grossman, C. L. (n.d.). Christmas a commercial holiday, not holy day, for many. USA TODAY. Retrieved November 14, 2021, from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/12/22/christmas-religious-secular-poll/4073205/
Stropkovics, K. (2018, November 1). How to Make Your Holiday Marketing Campaign More Inclusive. Small Business, Big World. https://medium.com/small-business-big-world/how-to-make-your-holiday-marketing-campaign-more-inclusive-98e49b81b12e
Grim, Brian J. “Corporates Often Forget Religious Diversity. Here’s Why They Should Not.” World Economic Forum, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/01/religion-diversity-business-inclusion/.