Diageo Marketing

Diageo is asking to see its ad agencies’ diversity plans but it has been met with ‘some blank faces’


By Jennifer Faull, Deputy Editor

July 2, 2018 | 4 min read

Diageo is asking its agencies for their internal ‘diversity plans’ amid a wider four-pronged ‘framework’ aimed at ridding its marketing of stereotypes.



Gráinne Wafer, Diageo’s global head of brand for Bailey’s, has revealed that the drinks company has started to ask ad agency bosses for their diversity strategies and that some had responded with “blank faces,” though she didn’t name those agencies.

“I work in an organisation where diversity is really embedded into it; 40% + of our senior leadership team are women. But clients need to start asking agencies to see their diversity plans. I’ve done it recently – I’ve been met with some blank faces.

“Some people are able to say ‘I know exactly what it is, here’s ours.’ Or ‘we’re not there yet but we have a plan’. That’s all I want to hear. That you have a plan,” she said, suggesting other marketers do the same.

This isn’t necessarily a new call to action. In 2016, HP issued a mandate to its roster of agencies for an increase in the number of women and minorities in creative and strategy roles, with 50% of its workforce to be made up of women.

In the same year, General Mills told creative agencies that to pitch for its business they would have to have a staff of at least 50% women and at least 20% of colour.

For HP today, 61% of the people working on its account worldwide are women, a 20% improvement.

But few other clients have publicly revealed the extent to which they are putting pressure on agency partners to improve their own numbers.

In addition, Diageo has also introduced a new “diversity framework,” which both its own creative department and those within agencies are working against.

“One of the things we recognise is that stereotypes are an easy shortcut and are used across advertising. You really need something that helps you break that down. So, at Diageo we have introduced a framework that’s based on four key things,” continued Wafer.

“The first is representation and looking at whether we have an equal number of men and women in our advertising.” This also extends to the kind of women that are portrayed in its ads, with Diageo trying to shift away from the “young, white, stunning, slim…” stereotype.

The second point is around thinking more about the end viewer for ads across its suite of brands to ensure it’s not objectifying women or men.

The third factor is questioning whether the women in its ads are playing a supporting or lead role: “are they driving where the camera is pointed within the content?” explained Wafer

And finally, the most challenging according to Wafer is ‘characterisation’.

“We need to look harder at this. Is the story still interesting if you remove the fact it’s about a woman? One of the things I see a lot is that we’re moving towards making women more prominent in advertising but the stories don’t have the depth and the character that we would expect. And that means the women are being used to make a point.”

Wafer said that this framework is helping to create an environment where a “conversation can be had” about diversity and is allowing it to “challenge stereotypes” across clients and agencies.

However, it’s a work in progress: “The business case for women is very clear. People are positive and want to see change across the industry, but the reality is that it’s harder than we imagined.”

Wafer was speaking at the Diversity in Media and Advertising Summit today, 2 July.

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