Anecdotes around better representation of women and more diverse audiences have traveled around entertainment and advertising for years. At the 3% Movement Minicon in Los Angeles, held at Deutch’s new Steelhead space, the stories have turned to real research and insight that shows that more representation on screen, whether in entertainment, advertising or business, can have a significant and positive impact.
The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media conducted a study with 21st Century Fox around what is called the “Scully Effect,” referring to Gillian Anderson’s science-led character on The X-Files.
“They wanted to prove this anecdote which they heard about women and girls going into STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) because of the Dana Scully character,” said Madeline Di Nonno, chief executive officer of the organization. “We conducted a research with thousands of women and we found out that over 65% of the women familiar with the Dana Scully character who were young at the time when they were watching it, actually pursued careers in STEM. And so we proved for a fact that it had a direct correlation.”
Further, April Reign, senior marketing director at Fractured Alias and creator of #OscarsSoWhite, saw a similar effect in the African-American community as another pop culture moment emerged with the NBC show A Different World. The show portrayed what life at a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) could be like.
“There was a significant increase in applications to HBCUs,” she said. “And I think we could see another bump after what Beyonce did at Coachella,” referring to the singer’s HBCU-themed set after which she donated $100,000, matched by Google, to eight historically black colleges and universities over the next three years.
At play is the responsibility as content creators, including in advertising, and how that trickles down to young audiences, often a coveted demographic for brands. Further, the responsibility of creating more inclusive and representative content makes its way down to the very youngest of consumers and parents.
“By the time [kids are] seven, they have a pretty defined point of view on societal norms, how they see themselves and what their opportunities are,” said Di Nonno. “It's really, really important that we think about that because young children don't have a sense of media literacy. They don't know how to filter. But they would know if they see someone that looks like them doing something. That can really open up their eyes.”
Ninth-grader, Mina Enayati-Uzeta, daughter of the 3% Movement’s head of culture innovation, Amanda Enayati, noted how culture, as a young half Middle-Eastern, half Latina girl, remains an issue.
“I have not, and still don’t really see myself represented,” she said. “It was confusing at first. On the one hand, both my parents, especially my mom, were always telling me, ‘You can do whatever you want to do’ and making it very clear that my ethnicity and my gender were never barriers. But on the other hand, as I started to process the world for myself, I'd go to the grocery store, I would see magazines with girls just brushing their hair or putting on makeup — and it wasn't even that these girls weren't doing active or cool things in my opinion, but it was also that they were all white.”
Where the advertising and marketing industry can take notice is in Hollywood. Di Nonno pointed out that female-led films in 2015 did 18.7% more at the box office, 7.3% in 2016 and 38% more this past year.
“When you look at inclusive and diverse films, they make the most money,” she added to the largely advertising-centric crowd. “In advertising, if you place advertising in a pod next to appropriately diverse and inclusive programming, you will sell more stuff. It's not just a nice thing. You get to make money.”
Reign, when asked her opinion by Kristin Hayden, chief partnership officer at Ignite, an organization that recruits women to enter politics, brought up the ever-present elephant in the room: Pepsi’s misguided work with Kendall Jenner.
“My thought is, ‘who was in the room making those decisions?’ So be smart about who you have in the room from the beginning — when the script is being made, when you've got the storyboards up,” she said.
Managing partner of Dailey in Los Angeles Michelle Wong agreed that, especially in advertising, representation from the beginning of the process to the end product demands cultural understanding, compassion and rigor.
“I think being in advertising and in the creative development process, you have to make sure that you have [the right] people in the room — the stakeholders, the voices. Having that diversity is really critical,” she said. “One of the reasons why I love this business is because most people in advertising didn't start in advertising. I'm not unique. But you need to have that array of voices and representation in order, not only to get it right, but for it to be authentic and full and powerful.”