How can we encourage more inclusivity in advertising? (Part 2)

The marketing sector can be a complicated place as new marketing tools and techniques are launched, almost on a weekly basis. Powered by The Drum Network, this regular column invites The Drum Network's members to demystify the marketing trade and offer expert insight and opinion on what is happening in the marketing industry today that can help your business tomorrow.

Smirnoff's inclusive 'We're Open' campaign

It can be said that inclusiveness in advertising has taken a step forward this year, particularly with campaigns such as McCann New York's 'Fearless Girl' that champions female empowerment and leadership, and more recently Smirnoff's partnership with the LGBT foundation for its campaign 'We're Open', which hopes to encourage a more socially inclusive experience for the LGBTQ+ community on nights out.

Although efforts have been made, there’s no doubt that there’s still a long way to go for many communities to feel represented in this industry, such as people with disabilities.

In Part 2 of this Vox Pop, The Drum Network asks its agency members how they would tackle this problem to make the advertising world a more inclusive place.

Imogen Almond, new business and marketing executive, RPM

We need to stop talking and start doing. Enough excuses. We need to tackle the fear of being awkward and simply start reflecting life in all its wonderful diversity. The spending power of disabled people is estimated by the government to be over £200bn a year. Enough ignoring, enough brushing under the carpet. The Paralympics and Invictus Games have done a lot, but four years after London 2012, 43% of the British public said they don’t know anyone who is disabled and 67% feel awkward around disability. We as an industry have the power to change attitudes, to question them and provide different perspectives. We just need to get on with it. Let’s start telling more stories and use a more diverse workforce to do it.

Kate Flather, creative director, Earnest

Inclusiveness needs to come from within the industry. We tend to reflect ourselves in our marketing, and when we try to connect with people whose perspectives are different we often fall short. That’s part of being human: it takes a gigantic empathetic leap to really understand what's inside someone else's mind. (Look at how women were portrayed in advertising in the 70s and 80s when the industry was 99.9% male.) Agencies and marketing departments need to commit to recruiting more imaginatively and with broader minds. The result will be unselfconsciously inclusive campaigns and deeper connections between audiences and brands.

Sammy Mansourpour, managing director, AgencyUK

An agency team must lead by example and always be brave. We must keep putting fresh and diverse creative ideas forward, however, it's the chief marketing officers, managing directors and brand managers who make the final call on what runs. What is encouraging is that we now have a groundswell to work with, so it's getting easier for agencies to get great, meaningful and socially diverse work considered. Agency planners must spend more time better understanding and tapping into the diversity of brand audiences. The usual agency process 'by definition' simplifies audiences into base profiles 'like' people together to form a majority, which in turn becomes the target. Stereotypes and personas are by definition a celebrated outcome. The truth is a planning process rarely embraces diversity, but big data, personalisation, social fragmentation is breaking down these barriers and making individuality a far more essential component.

Ben Woolf, head of creative brand experience, RPM

I think there is still an awkwardness with this subject, as there is always the fear of advertising exploiting, offending or being un-PC. Traditionally, we only see ‘disability’ being celebrated in the context of sporting achievement like the Invictus Games and Paralympics (both of which are amazing organisations). The reason that the Maltesers advert was so successful was because it is fearlessly celebrating life’s funny moments. Even the term disability can be decisive as demonstrated by this excellent campaign for Mencap that is trying to destigmatise people with learning disabilities. I guess the point I’m trying to make is that we could all learn something from this and we shouldn’t pigeon-hole disability or be awkward around it, there are many reasons to be inspired

Andrew Brown, executive creative director, Brass

It’s great that there’s growing representation in the market, and that’s essential to developing inclusion across society and that diverse groups feel that they are welcome to participate in the industry. And that’s the greater opportunity - for brands and agencies to operate with integrity. This will only happen if inclusivity is part of a brand’s DNA. Then they will have license to reflect all sectors of society in a way that is true to them, otherwise it could be seen as cynical and opportunistic.

Bogdan Marinescu, digital PR specialist, Greenlight Digital

Inclusivity seems to be the new, hot buzzword now, just as environmental responsibility was a few years ago. Unfortunately, at times it still feels that companies are exploiting others’ identities or special characters to promote their business. The truth is that our boardrooms and marketing teams aren't yet inclusive of the general population around us. Before inclusivity can fully be reflected in advertising, it needs to be at the heart of a company’s business strategy. Only by having an entire organisation stand behind diversity and inclusivity can you truly reflect that through advertising. Only then can you have a much more thought-through, natural inclusivity message that is embedded in the very fabric that makes up an organisation.

Ewen Haldane, business director, The School of Life

It’s clearly better in one sense to have more people from previously excluded groups represented in ads. But if brands really want to influence the wider culture, it’s better still to feature disabled or LGBT people in ways that don’t make an explicit point about their difference. When the focus of the ads is too obviously about the disability of the featured actor for example, it can reinforce a sense of separateness. Disabled or LGBT people aren’t ‘superhuman’ or special. They are - just like all of us - completely ordinary, with the same worries, anxieties, likes and dislikes as anyone else. It’s better to be invited to a party than excluded of course, but being invited in a way that flags how different we are can feel patronising or alienating in just another sense. The really inclusive brands don’t tell us that diversity is ok, they just show us, without making a big deal out of it.

Read more in Part 1 of this Vox Pop.

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Rebecca Levy

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