This note is in response to public and media conversations concerning “diversity”, “wokeness” and marketing. Whilst I am skeptical of the language of “diversity”, as it can mask injustices and fuel neoliberal profit-seeking agendas, there is still a need to engage with related discussions about brands appearing to be inclusive and a(woke)n to social inequalities.
Since the launch of Fenty Beauty by Rihanna in 2017, the brand has been hailed as having shaken up the make-up industry, including when receiving an “Invention of the Year” award by Time magazine. This is due to the fact that Fenty Beauty provides products tailored to people with a wide range of skin tones, particularly Black women and women of color. Fenty Beauty’s rapid popularity and profitability signals that contrary to popular perceptions, making Black women and women of color the face(s) of a brand can be beneficial to its success. The extent to which this can challenge structural inequalities remains to be seen. However, do any brands have the capacity to contribute to significant social change, given the capitalist structures they are entangled with? Whilst this question yields much debate, what is less contested is how Fenty Beauty advertisements have foregrounded women who are often overlooked amidst much media and marketing.
Fenty Beauty’s establishment as a recent leader in the beauty industry is a reminder of what effective inclusive marketing can entail; strong representation of marginalized individuals which avoid tokenistic gestures, and whose consumer desires are attended to as part of the design of products and marketing content.
This post is written from the point of view of someone who has purchased Fenty Beauty products, whilst witnessing excited queues of Black women and people of color, for whom the brand may signify more than just another make-up line. Fenty Beauty marketing has included the slogan – “You don't have to be all the same, all the time”. Such a statement speaks to issues of stigma and pressures to conform. Whilst Fenty Beauty may not be explicitly associated with a specific social justice movement, its message of encouraging and embracing individuality is one that is conducive with demand for brands that appear to be inclusive, and potentially even “woke”.