Over the years, we’ve worked on casting hundreds of TV commercials. It’s one of the toughest parts of the job. Finding the right person to play a beleaguered dad or helpful pharmacist or hip grandma can entail enduring hours—days!—of casting sessions, throughout which you’re sure no actor understands what you’re going for. Until someone does. Usually. You hope.
Diversity in casting is always an issue, and the industry’s approach to it has changed a lot over the years. It used to be common to cast friend-groups featuring one white person, one Black person, and one Asian person—but you almost never saw an interracial or gay couple. Today, interracial families and same-sex couples are ubiquitous in commercials.
From an inside perspective, those are pretty obvious attempts to jam a lot of diversity into a tight space. There’s nothing wrong with that; in fact, in many ways, as clumsy as some of their attempts have been, advertisers have in many ways led the fight for more inclusion in popular culture. Healthcare marketers have been at the forefront of many of those efforts.
So how do you handle diversity in your marketing today? What’s an anti-racist healthcare organization to do? We have a few ideas.
In your words and deeds and actions. Say it and mean it and work for it. Before you work on diversity and inclusion in your marketing, be an anti-racist business. That’s step one.
That means understanding the health and healthcare issues that affect communities of color. And it means recognizing your organization’s shortcomings and opportunities to improve, setting goals, and being honest and transparent about where you are in the process of reaching them.
Don’t succumb to stereotypes.
Not all doctors are male. Not all nurses are women. Not all couples are 35-year-old white suburbanites with adorable children (a boy and a girl). Not everyone who needs a total hip replacement is 70 years old.
The fact is, anybody can be anything, and that’s the most important thing to remember in casting for diversity. Leave your stereotypes about male and female roles and racial typecasting where they belong: in the past. And remember: The people you serve are not just patients, and they’re not an “audience.” They’re people.
Consider plural pronouns.
There is absolutely no reason to avoid gender-neutral, nonbinary pronouns in your copy. And there is absolutely no reason to not ask a person you’re interviewing how they prefer to be addressed. It’s a matter of simple respect.
If you’re paying really close attention, you’ll note that we used a gender-neutral nonbinary pronoun right up there: “A person” is singular and, while “they” is plural and according to old-school standards, grammatically incorrect. Chances are you didn’t even notice. No big deal, right?
Look beyond Black and white.
We’re guessing there are Asian people in your community. There are Latino/as in your community, people from India and the South Pacific, indigenous people. Diversity means embracing and celebrating everyone who calls your community home—including LGBTQ+ people.
Don’t treat people like numbers.
You don’t have to show every color of the human rainbow in every commercial. You don’t have to take representation to extremes. Diversity is not about ticking boxes. It’s about understanding that, especially when you are providing healthcare services that are truly for everyone, everyone should be able to envision themselves (there’s that gender-neutral pronoun again) receiving those services.
At the same time, remember that you’re a leading organization and a powerful voice in your community. People trust and respect you. Maybe making the world a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive place starts with modeling that idea to everyone you touch.
You say you’re not in healthcare marketing? Take out a couple of healthcare-specific notes above, and all these suggestions apply to you, too.
And one final note: It’s about more than marketing. It’s about treating people—all people—with dignity and respect.