Marketing & the Marginalized Brand Purpose Work & Wellbeing

Keith Weed urges marketers to stick by diverse ads but 65% fear they’re getting it ‘wrong’

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By Ellen Ormesher | Reporter

May 24, 2022 | 6 min read

The majority of today’s marketers are worried about diversity and cultural nuances in ads, saying they “fear getting it wrong,” according to a new survey from the Unstereotype Alliance. In the face of continued challenges, the alliance’s chair, and former chief marketing officer at Unilever, Keith Weed assures those wary chief marketers that marketing can be “noble again” if they take action.

The Unstereotype Alliance is a UN Women-convened thought and leadership platform, which launched five years ago with the aim of calling out the harmful stereotypes that perpetuate advertising.

Keith Weed

‘Without trust a brand is just a product and advertising without trust is just noise’ / Image via Unsplash

The UK chapter didn’t launch until mid-lockdown in 2020. Weed says there were some reservations that the launch would be ill-timed. However, its timing was actually more necessary than ever as the nation “saw an increase in domestic violence, followed by the international reaction to the murder of George Floyd and the fall-out of people thinking increasingly about the roles of gender and race in society.”

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That brought a “heightened awareness” for the need for inclusive advertising, he says. But a new Unstereotype Alliance survey reveals certain barriers advertisers still face when tackling authentic diverse representation, with respondents listing the following among its greatest concerns:

  • Fear of “getting it wrong” (64%) as the biggest challenge

  • Lack of knowledge of diverse communities (47%)

  • Lack of experience in portraying diverse communities (44%)

  • Lack of diverse talent in agency or brand teams (36%)

The research highlighted that despite some improvements, it’s still a vital area for the industry to address.

“Progressive advertising is simply more effective, not just as a model but a business case as well. And at the end of the day, it has a huge impact on society,” says Weed.

“If you go back in time to the beginning of marketing as an industry, it was very much about serving people through a product. In the 70s and 80s it became more about selling stuff, and I think in the last few decades we’ve seen a huge shift in the role of brands in creating a more ethical society.

“I believe marketing can be noble again, and really serve people and society.”

And, of course, it’s good for business too. “If brands engage society in a relevant and positive way they’ll be rewarded.”

The latest content series consists of five 10-minute episodes featuring intimate conversations across the themes of lived experience, achieving authentic representation, the power of cultural nuance, driving positive change and the future of diversity in advertising.

It also features a diverse line-up including Rania and Trevor Robinson OBE, chief exec and executive creative director respectively of Quiet Storm; Shani Dhanda, disability activist; and Naomi Sesay, head of creative diversity at Channel 4. Brands featured include Diageo, Cadbury and Unilever, while agency voices from IPG, Adam & Eve DDB, Kantar, Elvis, RSA Films and Omnicom have also been involved.

“I’m a great believer that most people go to work to do a good job,” says Weed, but concedes there is still work to do when it comes to accurately and realistically representing society in ads.

“Addressing harmful stereotypes is clearly a top priority,” he continues, “but even when the stereotype might seem somewhat innocuous, such as who is cleaning a home, we need to make sure that depictions are reflecting true life.”

It also works the other way, he explains, in that ads must show what people from marginalized groups are capable of – not just eradicating them from depiction. He cites the involvement of former England football star Rachel Yankey sharing her experience as one of the UK’s first women professional footballers in the series as an example.

The outcome if brands do not address their responsibility in reducing harmful stereotypes and improvising cultural representation in their ads is an erosion of trust. “I still believe that lack of trust poses one of the biggest risks to the advertising industry and to brands,” says Weed.

“Without trust a brand is just a product, and advertising without trust is just noise.”

He concludes that having a positive internal stance sets the standard for the industry at large. “I believe we can learn a lot from each other, and that is what’s special about Unstereotype Alliance.”

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