Smirnoff North America’s Jay Sethi Digs Deeper on Brands and Inclusivity

By Cathy Applefeld Olson
Can a brand truly be inclusive? This year’s Pride Month in June  saw an unprecedented number of brands embracing the LGBTQ+ community, and also spawned some important conversations around rainbow-washing and authenticity. After he took the stage with Orange Is the New Black star and Smirnoff national spokesperson Laverne Cox, Jay Sethi, CMO of Diageo Beer Co. and head of  Smirnoff North America, sat down with Cynopsis to dig deeper on brands and inclusivity. 
How do you strike a balance between a campaign that specifically shouts out, for example, a black transgender woman – and just partnering with that individual as an influencer?
It’s really important first of all that we don’t just spotlight members of the community during Pride. That has to be the starting point. We didn’t

Laverne Cox

hire Laverne Cox because she’s a black transgender woman, we hired her because she’s amazing. She’s talented, she’s funny, she’s humble. Traits we like to believe are close to our brand as well. On the other hand, it’s important to give a significant message during Pride because this is a moment when everybody is watching. So for us, it was a simple commitment that we’re going to do it all year long. One of the things I’m most proud about is the commercials we’ve done with her are in the top 5 percent of the total industry. This will open a door and create room for other brands.
What else is on your mind regarding inclusivity at Smirnoff?
Diversity and inclusion are really well rooted in our brand’s history. We serve over 50 million people in the US. That means, by definition, we are diverse – every income bracket, race, gender. This is our consumer and we want to reflect that in our work. I would like to see, going beyond the LGBTQIA community, more people of color in advertising. Not just in front of the camera but also making the work. We are underrepresented in the industry across the board.
Where do you see specific actionable areas of focus for the industry? 
We’ve made some significant progress in work toward gender diversity. In the past year we’ve see more female CMOs climb to the top rank than ever before, and that’s fantastic. So I think the next frontier is, everyone else gets to come with. That means women of color, people of color in general. The ship can get bigger, it can fit more people, and I hope we are just at the beginning of this conversation.    

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