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Lessons in avoiding creative bias from Mars, Diageo and P&G

Guinness is among those making sure its brand is accessing all the diverse opportunities for growth

Earlier this week, The World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) unveiled an open-source guide for marketers that strives to improve diversity and representation throughout the creative process.

The guide proposes 12 questions that can be used as a ‘litmus’ test at every stage of the creative journey, pulling together key resources that can be used to address gaps and areas of concern.

It comes amid a push from the wider industry to banish stereotypes in ads and to ensure diversity both on-screen and behind the camera – reflecting the various nuances of race, gender, age, and sexuality – among other factors.

Brands like Unilever and P&G have already begun their efforts in the space. This week P&G launched its own 'Widen the Screen' initiative, dedicated to dismantling harmful stereotypes of Black people on-screen.

Meanwhile, the new WFA document has been co-developed by members of the federation's Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, which launched in 2020.

Today, The Drum catches up with members of the board from Mars, P&G and Diageo who reveal how they've been tailoring their own creative procedures to avoid the bias pitfalls marketers too often fall into.

From baking inclusive marketing into the core of your business, analyzing the characters in your ads, and tracking your efforts against solid KPIs, they offer some lessons to other marketers in getting started in making the creative process produce outcomes that are more representative of the audiences they serve.

Dale Green, global brand director at Mars

“The commitment to fair representation doesn’t end once the creative is complete”

Mars crowdsourced talented women in China’s Film Industry for all the key creative roles for its latest Dove chocolate spot

“At Mars we believe the world we want tomorrow starts with how we do business today. As a leading global advertiser, we have a responsibility to make sure our brands speak to and celebrate the diversity of the audiences who enjoy them.

“In fact, inclusive marketing practices is one of the core pillars of our gender equity platform called 'Full Potential'.

“As the new WFA bias guide stresses, this commitment to fair representation doesn’t end once the creative is complete. It’s important to measure and track progress.

“We analyze who is working on our productions and audit the composition and portrayal of characters in our work. We have partnered with the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media to assess our advertising using a proprietary GD-IQ tool, which evaluates the characters in our video assets across our brands. For example, when looking at diversity in an ad, we check who is in a position of leadership, or who is in the kitchen?

“We also compare this data to see how representative we are in various parts of the world, which allows us to diagnose potential areas of unconscious bias, something which, again, the new guide recommends doing.

“At Mars, we also focus on the environment in which our advertising is placed. We consider the type of programming we wish to be present in and whether it represents our values. This also extends to digital advertising.

“We are proud to be a founding member of the WFA’s Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM) a global collaboration with agencies, media platforms and industry associations aimed at rapidly improving digital brand safety, avoiding harmful or inappropriate content and protecting vulnerable audiences, such as children.

“It’s a journey and we still have a long way to go, but hopefully we can use our marketing to make a difference. We hope by being more representative and challenging stereotypes, our adverts can help shape a better world.”

Grainne Wafer, global brand director for Guinness at Diageo

“Learn from from other organization's experiences and provocations”

In ‘Liberty Fields’ Guinness told the inspirational story of a Japanese women’s rugby team who overcame societal pressure

“There is now a groundswell of evidence that shows a more progressive industry is not just good for society but is also good for business and good for brands.

A Deloitte study from 2017-2019 which measured the ROI of diversity and demonstrated the stock price of diverse brands performed 69% better than their counterparts, and consumer preference scores were also 83% higher.

“However, the most recent data from the Geena Davis institute (among others) shows there is still so much work to do – both on gender, ethnicity and across all aspects of diversity.

“Which poses the question. Why as an industry full of ambition, positive intent and with a business imperative to deliver growth and stronger ROIs, are we not making the scale and pace of progress that is needed?

“I believe it is down to two things: firstly, there is an imperative to collaborate across the industry with partners, and communities to share learning – both where we got it right, and where we have still work to do - so as to ensure that all boats rise together.

“In contributing to the WFA's guide, we were delighted to share Diageo’s experience and practical examples of how to support a range of voices, celebrate diversity and achieve more progressive marketing. We also benefited and learned from the other organisations experiences and provocations that will help us make our work and practices better.

“Secondly, we know that decades of hardwired biased practice and thinking can still get in the way of creating more representative and inclusive work and we need nudges, tools, frameworks and provocation to help us create more open and unbiased discussion and decisions in the development process.

“The careful and considered thought at every stage of the development process in order to prevent bias as outlined in the new WFA guide will be a key enabler of unlocking the answer and creating both the ambition and the action we need to create industry wide change.

“So, what are the key elements of the new WFA guide?

“Firstly, the taskforce identified that in order to really deliver on the ambition for more progressive work, it needs to be embedded in brand and organizational strategy from the very outset, backed by senior commitment and action.

“And of course, we also know that this makes good business sense. In the upfront strategic thinking consider whether your brand or organization is accessing all of the diverse opportunities for growth - does your audience reflects the emerging consumer base for your category and most importantly ask yourself who are you excluding.

“Ensure that through research and engagement with experts that you have a thorough deep understanding of these diverse audiences so that you can also understand the credible and authentic role your brand can play. Bring inspiration and fresh stimulus to the brief and throughout the whole creative process consider the diversity of those you have at the table or in the room, behind the camera, and in the edit suite and ensure those diverse voices are heard, amplified and listened to.

“There is an urgent need to make our industry more representative and this can also be enabled through the role clients play in championing a more diverse supply chain from agencies through production and also through working with WFA partners such as Creative Equals and Free the Work, amongst others.

“The UN women convened body, the Unstereotype Alliance, has also created a valuable tool in its content playbook which ensures that as you move through creative development you are fully considering the ‘3 P’s’ of presence, perspective and personality so as to avoid stereotyping and making truly progressive work that matches the strategic ambition and intent.

"Finally, when pulling this guide together, the marketers involved felt was particularly important to nurture a safe space for frank and honest critique of the creative and interpretation, recognizing that this can be complex, nuanced and subject to individual bias.

“Many organisations also have diversity and inclusion employee groups that can be a valuable source of input and advice - creating the right conditions for truly progressive conversations, leading to progressive work that is good for brands, good for business and good for society.”

Anne Joffre Bonnaillie, senior director of equity and inclusion in advertising at P&G

“Change can only happen through clear KPIs”

'Widen the Screen' has been devised by P&G to give opportunities to Black creators by fueling investment in Black-owned media

“At P&G we are committed to leveraging our brands’ voices around globe to shape a more equal world through advertising.

“Our efforts are on track to deliver 100% positive and accurate representation on screen and hire 50% female directors behind the camera to shoot our commercials.

“Since our chief brand officer, Marc Pritchard, initiated this journey at Cannes Lions in 2017, we have learned that equity and inclusion change happens through organization’s accountability, capability building, and clear KPIs.

“The new guide does an amazing job in the last two areas, driving awareness of the opportunities and pitfalls in representation, as well as calling out highly relevant resources and partners for talent or measurement at every stage of the creative and production process.”