How America’s Growing Embrace of Intersectionality Should Inform Marketing

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If you’re a fan of #QOTD [Quote of the Day] memes on social media, you’ll have come across “We don’t see the world as it is, we see it as we are.” Internet users often refer to this mantra to celebrate intersectionality — who we are in all our multiple identities: racial and ethnic heritage, sexual orientation, gender expression, neurodivergent or neurotypical, living with disabilities or not, etc.

Professor Kimberlé W. Crenshaw used the term intersectionality originally to “describe the double bind of simultaneous racial and gender prejudice” faced by Black women. In 2021, the term “intersectionality” is often used to describe more broadly the way people’s multiple identities intersect. This is not just a political phenomenon; it’s crucial in marketing, too. Why? Because if brands don’t speak to consumers as they see themselves, they risk alienating audiences.  

Population growth today is mostly driven by non-white groups, and the number of people who identify as biracial or multiracial has grown enormously – by almost 25 million since the 2010 census. This sends out a clear message to marketers: People are embracing their own multidimensional identities, and brands should follow suit in their messaging.

Meet Yaritza

Let’s imagine a fictional 20-year-old called Yaritza, who grew up in East L.A. to a Mexican-American family. Yaritza has multiple identities. She’s multilingual and proud of her Hispanic culture. She’s (sometimes prefers they/them as well) been an LGBTQA+ ally since middle school. At home, with her family, she stays connected to her heritage through learning to cook traditional meals with her abuela, who’s part of The League of Kitchens

With her friend group, she’s into Japanese retro-80s bubblegum pop (like the late Miki Matsubura), makes travel dream boards by following influencer Nneya Richards, is a peer educator for the youth-centered wellness nonprofit Young at Heart, and has tickets to see local heroes Chicano Batman on tour. 

Like most of her fellow Gen Z-ers, Yaritza won’t buy clothing from sweatshops/child labor-using brands. Which is why she’s rocking a (we are a sad generation with happy instagram pictures) tee shirt from independent fashion label “You Decide Who You Are” — because founder @janglogovic is super transparent regarding its supply chain. 

Yaritza’s example shows a clear trend, backed up by Gen Z-focused research. This generation wants the brands, products, and services they buy to reflect their values and solutions to social problems.  

Reaching Intersectional Consumers

Through a deeper understanding of intergenerational  — and generationally specific  — attitudes, brands can better connect to today’s consumers. For example, three-quarters of Asian-Americans say they maintain connections to their heritage through food preferences, as opposed to nearly half of Black/African-American respondents. Social justice, combined with diversity and inclusion, are of increasing importance across the board now. In the past year alone, the number of US consumers who expect brands to be respectful, inclusive, and support diversity has climbed dramatically. All of these factors should inform outreach to these groups and brands’ messaging in general; the data underscore the emerging consensus that neutrality toward social issues increasingly comes with a cost. 

The biggest shift in consumers’ mindset has been Americans feeling more willing to claim their multi-layered cultural heritage. For example, among those who identify as Hispanic American and Asian American, 4 in 10 told GWI “I feel more connected to my heritage than a year ago.” An additional 38 percent of Hispanic/Black Americans said “I prefer ads that reflect my culture,” and 32 percent of the same group want to see “celebrities who look like me on TV.” We also found that people who identify as multiracial, or biracial, are increasingly concerned (27 percent, rising to 34 percent between 2020 – 2021) about “maintaining traditions” from their disparate and combined cultures. 

Given these trends, brands would do well to reflect US consumers’ emboldened conception of their own diverse identities, doubling down on commitments to intersectional representation and social justice in their product variety, messaging, and hiring policies. Meeting that standard will be crucial to forging deeper connections with many consumers, especially Gen Z.

Tom Morris is a Trends Analyst at GWI.