NEW YORK — Pronghorn, a 10-year initiative launched by Diageo in May to boost diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the spirits industry, is angling for long-term impact by demonstrating how best to use investments, media and attention to enact tangible change. As DEI continues to be top-of-mind for consumers and marketers, Pronghorn's approach seeks to create a replicable blueprint for industries beyond spirits that can boost other minority populations lacking representation.
Pronghorn co-founders Dia Simms, Dan Sanborn and Erin Harris discussed these goals on an in-person panel at Advertising Week New York on Monday. They also highlighted the importance of using digital tactics in reaching diverse audiences, as well as ways in which brands should think about organizing their purpose-driven efforts.
"I think a lot of times it can be very daunting … figuring out how to tackle diversity," Simms said. "But the thing that is most exciting to me [about Pronghorn] is that although the actual math was frightening, the plan is quite achievable."
Pronghorn's approach is two-fold: to invest in Black-owned founders and brands while building a pipeline of talent to diversify executive leadership. Through its efforts, the business hopes to generate $2 billion in economic value in the U.S.
While diversity can be lucrative, "racism is expensive," per Simms, with a lack of representation having similarly far-reaching consequences for marketers. While most consumers (71%) expect brands to promote diversity in their online marketing, 54% do not feel culturally represented by these ads, per a Facebook study conducted in March. Moreover, the study showed that consumers are less loyal to brands that don't appear to stand for diversity and inclusion — a nod to the issue's bottom-line ramifications.
Both brands including Procter & Gamble and agencies including WPP's GroupM have invested in efforts to boost diversity. For Pronghorn, the potential to stand out stems from the magnitude of its goals.
"How we're different from other DEI initiatives is that we're really approaching this as an ecosystem," Simms said. "How do we touch on a whole entire community at every single intersection, whether it's cultural, whether it's creative, whether it's the community in general?"
Reaching diverse audiences
Brands must understand and leverage digital media in order to reach diverse audiences, according to the executives on the panel. With consumers fragmented across media forms (particularly TV), operating via a mobile-first approach could help companies differentiate the groups with whom they engage, especially as mobile usage continues to increase.
Pronghorn, for example, plans to emphasize e-commerce to help Black-owned businesses, Sanborn said. E-commerce has exploded since the onset of the pandemic, in part due to its ability to help smaller businesses cut costs and streamline operations — a focus that aligns with Pronghorn's goal to lower barriers of entry into the spirits market.
Finding the consumer is only half the battle, however, as brands must ensure their content is properly integrated and coherent. To this end, Pronghorn is working to build out concise campaign taglines, which are crucial for sticking in consumers' minds.
"This business is the business of diversity, and you have to have enormous focus, precision and rigor with the same way you make your sales forecast."
Nuance is also essential when creating content about and for diverse communities. As with calls for Hollywood to diversify its subjects and casts, brands should ask questions about their own projects and storylines, which could lead to progress from a consumer-approval standpoint.
"Those kinds of content integrations that feel natural ... that's how you actually change mindsets more than the kind of obvious, two-way exchange of commerce," Simms said.
The panelists emphasized that tackling diversity is a marathon and not a sprint, and a brand's effort must be more than merely a side hustle.
"When you look at some of the efforts that are happening now, although they have good intentions, they're sometimes dispersed and disconnected," Simms said.
For this reason, Pronghorn aims to operate as a consistent effort across the entire company. Its position as a standalone business with a sole focus on diversity could help the program stay on target, freed of other areas of Diageo's operations that could have forced DEI to the back burner.
Of course, while not every company has Diageo's sizable budget, brands must keep in mind that consumers are increasingly growing tired of empty promises. The result can be a hit to loyalty, with consumers showing that three-quarters (75%) of brands could disappear and they wouldn't care or would easily find a replacement, per a report by Havas Media Group.
The marathon mentality is also reflected by Pronghorn's hope to provide a template for other industries, potentially expanding its 10-year plan into a more enduring one. As Simms noted, gaps in DEI exist in every industry, not just advertising or spirits.
"This business is the business of diversity, and you have to have enormous focus, precision and rigor with the same way you make your sales forecast," Simms said.