Working class Brits want brands to stop 'caricaturing' them and ditch the stereotypes

Puma and JD Sports were accused of were accused of "fetisching poverty"

A significant amount of UK consumers believe that the media and marketing industries are perpetuating harmful socio-economic stereotypes because they’re too focused on portraying, and appealing to, "rich and middle-class households".

According to a study from media agency UM, which questioned 2000 adults, 62% of Brits think TV ads in particular are too focused on depicting wealthy homes.

The study also found 55% of respondents believe the media as a whole doesn't give enough airtime to those on a lower income, with a further 44% saying they wanted to see greater socio-economic inclusion in ads.

When it came to class specifically, 41% of people who identified as being from the C1, C2, D and E social grades – which span lower-middle class through to working class and unnemployed – felt that media representations of people of their social background were often "stereotyped" and "caricatured" by brands.

'Fetishising poverty'

The research follows on from a 'House of Hustle' event hosted by Puma and JD Sports in April in which the sports giants were accused of "fetishising poverty".

Invitees to the party, which was devised by Urban Nerds and set in a building with blacked out windows and dirty mattresses strewn on the floor, were each sent a shoebox filled with fake £50 notes and a 'burner phone'.

Puma has since apologised, but social worker Amber Gillis Coutts noted in an open letter to the advertiser that it was "sadly nothing new for sports brands to attach... logos to the lived experiences of prominently working-class people of colour,” referencing Puma’s 2012 recreation of a Jamaican 'yard'.

H&M too is another brand that has landed itself in hot water for "revelling over poverty chic" this year, after selling and promoting a men's orange hoodie emblazoned with the word 'unemployed' on the front.

When asked why they thought those on a low income weren't visible in ads, 45% of Brits told UM it was because that wouldn't sell products, while 43% revealed the extent of the stigma around the subject by saying it was because low-income individuals "make people uncomfortable".

Michael Brown, head of insight at UM, said that while many brands were rightly taking a stance against gender- and sexuality-based stereotyping, backed by the recent moves by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), there were "still more harmful stereotypes apparent both in the media and in ads".

He added: “This industry needs to take the lead in challenging all the negative representations that are still so prevalent and dangerous. The ad industry might have been built on aspiration, but that doesn’t mean people with less spending power have none at all.”

The study was part of UM's ongoing research into stereotyping in ads. In March, the figures highlighted the continued impact of negative stereotyping by brands on those with disabilities. 64% of consumers agreed that mental disabilities were most likely to be negatively stereotyped, with the research unearthing widespread support for greater representation going forward.

Get The Drum Newsletter

Build your marketing knowledge by choosing from daily news bulletins or a weekly special.