Marketing community is 'petrified' of portraying diversity – Boots, Asda, Merlin and Saatchi & Saatchi discuss alternative families

With same-sex marriages legal in the England and Wales as well as certain parts of the US, the issue of how to represent alternative families in marketing campaigns is creeping up the agenda for many big brands.

Image source: @GabrieleGenola

Brands including Honey Maid and Coca-Cola have already made steps to representing a diverse family, but for Saatchi & Saatchi director of strategy, Richard Huntington, the marketing community still has a long way to go.

Speaking at Mumsnet's Mumstock event in London today, Huntington said: “The vast majority of the marketing community is petrified of that sort of diversity and it’s a real shame. It’s a battle we’ve been fighting for decades yet our ads still feature white women in kitchens”

“I think it is really upsetting and inappropriate to keep representing a society that doesn’t exist.”

Coca-Cola previously came under fire after featuring a gay wedding scene in its 'Reasons to Believe campaign, Coca-Cola removed them from for an Irish version of the ad.

Joining Huntington on the session at the event, were marketers from Boots, Asda and Merlin. They had previously looked at the problem of brands talking to mums in a patronising and stereotypical way, and this was the same warning Asda’s VP of marketing Chris McDonough gave to brands when it came to embracing alternative parenting groups.

“The thing to be carefully with is that it can become very tokenistic, which is perhaps where we’ve been with mums in the past in terms of stereotyping," said McDonough. "It’s a great point but we need to do it in a meaningful and credible way that actually connects with your audience because if not that will be more alienating than not forcing it at all.”

Boots' chief marketing officer, Elizabeth Fagan, agreed, adding that it will eventually come. However, we can’t view it as being brave, it should instead be represented as a part of modern life.

“With Boots, because it is owned by customers, a lot of people have thoughts on what Boots can and can’t do. It will come in the right time and in the right way. It will naturally happen,” she explained.

Fellow panelist Emma Woods, group marketing director of Merlin, which owns theme parks including Alton Towers and Legoland said it is is looking at how its product - in Merlin’s case family theme park tickets - will change to reflect contemporary diversity within families.

But she added: “It’s a real challenge. You get lambasted on social media if you aren’t doing it with authenticity. It’s easy to understand why brands don’t do it.”

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