While advertisers are increasingly aware of the need for campaigns that represent the diversity of the human experience, a poll by the Unstereotype Alliance highlights the fears that many senior marketers in the U.K. have about getting representation right. Recognizing that advertisers have a responsibility to accurately portray all people without perpetuating stereotypes is a step in the right direction. In order to do so, people from the communities that are being represented must be included in the creative process. However, in order for inclusive marketing — especially diverse ads — to really mean anything, it is imperative that the companies behind the advertisements diversify their staffing as well: and at the c-suite level in particular.
The Unstereotype Alliance was organized by UN Women, an arm of the United Nations devoted to gender equality, in order to collaborate with the advertising industry and promote and empower positive change through marketing. Its poll of more than 100 top marketers in the U.K., as reported in AdWeek, shows overwhelming support for diversity in advertising. In fact, 70 percent of respondents planned to increase the level of inclusion and placement of diverse ads in their promotional material over the next year. The problem? Sixty-four percent name “getting it wrong” as their biggest concern.
There is good reason for that concern considering that 36 percent of those surveyed admitted a lack of diversity among creative talent in their organizations and among brands, according to a recent report breakdown in The Drum. Furthermore, 47 percent agreed that they didn’t know enough about diverse communities while 44 percent stated that they did not have enough experience portraying them.
Simone Pennant, founder and director of the TV Collective, spoke about the importance of this self-awareness on “How to Achieve Authentic Representation," a part of the Unstereotype Alliance’s “Conversations for Change” series, which aims to help guide advertisers as they promote diversity and inclusion in their work. “There is an arrogance to assume that you know everything and that your team can all look the same and be the same and assume that they know about different communities.”
How brands choose to proceed in such conditions will determine how their marketing strategies come across and whether or not they are successfully inclusive. Homogenous marketing teams risk creating something through diverse ads that is at best inauthentic and at worst tokenistic. Pennant continued: “If you don’t think there’s enough Black women directors and you’re in a position to hire them, then hire them. If you’re casting and you think there’s not enough people of disabilities, hire them or cast them. So take full responsibility in creating the kind of change that you want to see.”
The experts featured on the Unstereotype Alliance’s series agree that inclusive marketing can be a force for real change in the world. Melda Simon, the U.K. Lead for the organization, explained that just as advertising can be harmful and promote negative stereotypes, it also has the power to break those stereotypes down and replace them with understanding and positive representation instead.
In order to do so, representation by means of diverse ads is just as important behind the scenes as it is in the final copy. “Diversity is pretty meaningless if it’s only the screen,” Colette Philip, founder of Brand by Me, said on “The Power of Cultural Nuance," another video in the “Conversations for Change” series. “We’re still seeing the same closed groups of people holding power and making all the decisions.”
So, while advertisers have a responsibility to accurately portray the full diversity of humanity on screen, brands also have the responsibility to diversify their talent and executive leadership. Insensitive marketing, on the other hand, risks pushing people away — not just from the brand’s products, but as an employer as well — further exacerbating a brand’s lack of diversity.
Image credit: Chris Murray via Unsplash
Riya Anne Polcastro is an author, photographer and adventurer based out of the Pacific Northwest. She enjoys writing just about anything, from gritty fiction to business and environmental issues. She is especially interested in how sustainability can be harnessed to encourage economic and environmental equity between the Global South and North. One day she hopes to travel the world with nothing but a backpack and her trusty laptop.