How Messaging Grounds Voya Financial’s DEI Strategy

Historically, many industries and verticals have tended to overrepresent white men. Finance is one of them. Voya Financial, an investment company that helps its clients prep for retirement, is trying to bridge that gap by making the messaging in its ads more inclusive.

On January 13, Voya launched two new commercials, both in thirty-second and fifteen-second versions, that each feature a historically underrepresented demographic – a Southeast Asian ethnic group and people with disabilities.

The ads are running across all platforms, including streaming and digital video.

Linear TV is Voya’s “cornerstone” because of its efficiency at a CPM level, said Jim Cowsert, VP of advertising and media at Voya Financial. Its primary goal is brand awareness across a broad target audience (everyone retires eventually), so it usually passes on the premiums of more advanced targeting on connected TV platforms like streaming.

Even so, the brand is starting to lean further into cross-platform entertainment channels where audiences tend to be more engaged. Its incremental reach is still in the early stages, though.

At the same time, Voya buys demos on digital video, particularly YouTube, to try to drive more conversions through the traditionally lower-funnel medium. It’s actually trialing six-second versions of its commercials for YouTube, too, because attention spans are only getting shorter. (Vine must’ve been onto something.)

“Every year, we’re investing more outside of linear,” Cowsert said. “It’s a gradual shift.”

Voya’s primary strategy for reaching its audience isn’t through targeting but through its messaging.

Appealing messaging resonates when people see themselves in the ads, Cowsert said. “We want to fully represent all Americans,” he added.

Voya tracks representation in ads and claims people of color constitute 55% of the characters in ads the company has run since launching its brand in 2014. For reference, the 2020 census pins non-white Americans in the US at around 42% of the population. (Better to pass the finish line than to stop short.)

But populations change – as do TV consumption preferences – so media teams don’t have time to rest on their laurels.

Southeast Asian ethnic groups are a demographic we haven’t really represented a lot in our advertising, Cowsert said, “and we want to make sure we’re continuing to be inclusive.”

Accordingly, one of Voya’s two new commercials features a multigenerational family of Indian descent.

Underrepresented groups who don’t get their fair share of airtime go beyond race. Voya has been especially focused on representing people with special needs or disabilities in its campaigns for the past five years.

“We’re [also] acknowledging the additional challenges that caregivers or families with special needs children face in terms of saving for retirement,” Cowsert added.

Voya said it tackles DEI beyond just casting by customizing the scripts for the groups. Behind the camera, it aims for diversity, too.

“We’re trying to reach and resonate with a diverse audience not just through media placements and media partners but through the messaging itself,” Cowsert said. That’s done by making sure a story’s actors also have a hand in scripting that story.

“Diversity is something we think about both on-screen and off-screen,” Cowsert added. “Directing is [another] field that’s heavily white male historically, so we have women directors and people of color on our directing team to make sure people working [with our] business reflect our target [audience].”

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