The DEI Lesson Marketers Can Learn from Weight Watchers’ (WW) Latest Collaboration
This past November, Tanisha Godfrey went viral for a video describing her lunch: a chicken salad. In it, she says, “Y’all better come up and get one of these… It’s a chicken salad. 81st Deli.”
Tanisha’s original audio has been used over 200 thousand times on TikTok and 1.2 million on Instagram alone. Like many viral moments, big brands noticed the trend and wanted to take advantage of the hype. While we have observed strides in policies that protect creators on platforms like Instagram, content theft and the absence of attribution are still rampant. Digital content creation is a growing area of work, and better regulation is needed to protect the folks who create the reels, TikToks, and memes we enjoy daily.
When it comes to content creation, like all other forms of work, there is a wage gap.
As in traditional work systems, many inequities exist in the influencer and digital marketing space. For example, Forbes published their “Top-Earning TikTok-ers of 2022”, a group that collectively made $55.5 million this year. Unfortunately, no Black, disabled, or transgender TikTok creators made the Forbes list. What’s worth noting is that the creators who made this list aren’t the ones with the most followers — they’re the creators who earn the most via brand partnerships, deals, views, TikTok virtual gifts, and the Creator Fund. One example of the discrepancy between top followers and top earners is Khaby Lame, a Senegalese-Italian content creator with over 153.2M followers. On the other hand, Forbes top earner Charlie D’Amelio only has 149.3M followers. Like any other job, being a content creator doesn’t shield you from the injustices and economic inequities influenced and shaped by systems of oppression.
What’s the data saying?
According to a study by MSL, pay inequities between racialized and white influencers mirror similar trends in other industries. They note that “historic socioeconomic inequities create an unequal playing field, trapping a disproportionate number of Black workers in the lowest paying jobs with little chance of upward mobility.” Like in other industries, influencing still has a long way to go toward creating more inclusive and equitable practices for racialized, 2SLGBTQIA+, and disabled creators. MSL shared:
- 77% of Black creators are over-represented in lower-paying influencer tiers (under 50K followers), where compensation from brands averaged $27,000 annually (versus 59% of white influencers).
- Only 23% of Black influencers (versus 41% of white influencers) made it into the macro influencer tier (50K+ followers), where earnings averaged upward of $100,000 annually.
- The majority (59%) of Black influencers (and 49% of racialized influencers) reported that they felt negatively impacted financially when they posted on issues of race versus 14% of white influencers.
Brands — and their marketing teams — need to do better.
The fallout of these trends trickles down from influencers like Khaby Lame to our girl Tanisha Godfrey. After her video went viral, corporations contacted her to use her likeness as part of a brand partnership. Google, worth 1.17 trillion USD, reached out to her for a brand partnership and offered her $500.00 (yes, you read that right).
Whether in sports, film, or on TikTok, racialized folks are consistently told to “shut up and dribble” — to not speak on our experiences with marginalization and to create without being fairly compensated or compensated at all. This inequity is why so many racialized creators are exhausted. Too often, we observe iconic brands and companies profiting off the creativity of racialized creators (we’re looking at you, Addison Rae and Jimmy Fallon). Unfortunately, just a year after the ‘#BlackTikTokStrike, it still seems like many big brands haven’t listened to creators from historically marginalized communities when they’ve asked to be paid for their work, especially if corporations worth millions are going to profit off of it. Luckily, some brands have been paying attention.
In a surprising turn, Weight Watchers did the right thing.
After rejecting Google’s (offensive) lowball offer, Tanisha was approached by Weight Watchers (now rebranded to WW) to partner with them to create a WW chicken salad and pay her for her contributions to the brand. While we at Bloom aren’t fans of how WW perpetuates harmful diet culture and fatphobia, this is an excellent example of a corporation choosing not to profit off of Black creatives but to profit share — the way it should be.
Many marketing teams and ad agencies are now building more partnerships with racialized, 2SLGBTQIA+, and disabled content creators, which is why it is critical not to abandon anti-oppressive principles and assume that “exposure” or free products will pay content creators’ bills. They don’t.
Marketers: now is the time to disrupt the bias, build equitable partnerships, and follow through on your company’s DEI commitments.
Here are some ways to start building equitable brand partnerships with creators:
Practice pay transparency.
Lack of transparency is one of the greatest amplifiers of pay inequity. For example, in the MSL’s study, respondents were asked to share a single factor that could eliminate the racial pay gap, and 92% of all influencer responses involved more pay transparency.
Value the perspectives of folks who speak out against inequality year-round.
Creators from marginalized backgrounds regularly share how frustrating and financially detrimental it is when brands prioritize their content only during month-long observances such as Black History Month, Pride Month, or Indigenous History Month. Only amplifying these creators when it’s trendy can feel tokenizing and performative and can make it more challenging for creators to manage other projects, scale services, and build economic independence.
Don’t overlook micro-influencers and “small” creators.
Data shows that racialized folks are over-represented in nano and micro-influencer tiers, but they still have value. Investing in content creators from historically marginalized communities means investing in their futures. Don’t just send free products — pay people to review, use, and recommend.
Tanisha, we’re so happy for you. We love seeing Black women get some coin. Especially when, time and time again, racialized content creators are undervalued, underrepresented, and under-compensated for viral trends that companies profit from.